October 7, 2009
History and Morallity
The subject for this post came up recently when I was talking to someone, and I had the chance to develop this posting mainly from that conversation. For that reason I hope this post flows a little better than the posts previous to this. Yet before getting into the topic itself some information has to be provided. For my argument to have any bearing morals have to exist in a somewhat permanent way. Anyone who proclaims to be a moral relativist will not be persuaded in the least by what I have to say later, but I will attempt to show first that there is some evidence for moral semi-permanence.
To start I'll use the description semi-permanence because many things fall into the category of morality that seem to exist in an nearly universal fashion. Not long ago it was proper to use the terms, 'white meat' and 'dark meat' because the use of the words breast and thigh were considered taboo. What language is considered offensive, what people are supposed to wear, and even some things like suicide are dealt with a constantly changing cultural morality. That cultural morality is a great thing and allows for much of the moral progress that has happened in the past few centuries, but there is a morality long ingrained within our species because we are social animals.
That ingrained morality is where the more permanent morality exists. The best way this morality can be seen is by what doesn't happen in almost any society. The people of a society aren't killed openly by people of that society unless there is a good reason to do so, or at minimum an attempt for the justification for committing an act like that. Of course there are people who die in those societies for no good reason, but when this is done the society is offended when it happens, it collectively knows that something wrong has happened. This line of reasoning can be extended to theft (among non-collectivist societies), and anything that really causes an unjustified great damage to someone else, and I'd like to be able to extend it to slavery and racism, but I don't think it's possible, but that's the subject of a different post.
This argument could go much further, but it doesn't have to for my purposes, because as soon as some moral permanence is given than that moral permanence can be extended over the length of humanities existence and while the morality may seem not to amount to very much, it does have some ability. It allows a person to condemn wrongful killings, genocides, mutilations and thefts in the past.
For instance the context of the society and culture of Nazi Germany doesn't have to be taken into consideration when making a statement such as the, 'The holocaust was a defilement of morality and sullied mankind's moral opinion of itself.' All that really matters in this judgment is that a permanent morality exists and that the act was in violation of that morality.
Yet the killings don't have to be on such a gross scale, they can be as small as single death. Socrates was sentenced to death for being an atheist and corrupting the youth (teaching them how to argue and make their parents look foolish). These scant reasons are unjustifiable to cause the sentence of death, and so long as the reason is insufficient throughout time, than a moral judgment can be made on the issue today with disregard to the context of that particular culture and time. Killing Socrates was always a moral wrong and will always continue to be morally wrong.
Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic