For 614 weeks over a 12-year period, Randy Cohen was a latter-day Dear Abby. As author of The Ethicist column in The New York Times Magazine, he provided a moral compass for readers facing quandaries large and small.
He collected many of those efforts in a just-published book, “Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything.” Cohen spoke to The Arty Semite about how he got the gig, why he left it, and how to be “resolutely secular.”
Curt Schleier: Before The Times column, you wrote for David Letterman and Rosie O’Donnell, winning four Emmys. That seems like an unlikely resume for an ethics columnist.
Randy Cohen: My background does seem unlikely for doing this job. Readers asked quite reasonably, “Who are you to write this column?” They expected it would be written by someone with a philosophical background. That was fair and it used to make me uneasy. Even the name of the column, The Ethicist, makes it sound like [it was written by] someone who studied ethics. It would have been easier for me if it was called Ask Randy or What the Heck Randy Thinks. Once I’d written it for a couple of years I felt more at ease with it. Readers knew what they were getting into.