Thursday, October 30, 2008

Morality Will Progress: Are You a Wage Slave?

As far as moral judgments are concerned, I think we’re on pretty shaky ground. However, given what indications we have from anthropology and history and intuition and so on, it seems to me that there is reason to believe that there are biologically rooted principles entering into moral judgments. Those principles are not obvious to us; we learn them through experience. Our moral and ethical judgements, to a certain extent, grow out of those principles, although they are obviously heavily conditioned by various doctrinal systems with social and historical roots, and by perceived choices and available interpretations that are socially and historically conditioned… It seems to me that, throughout history, it is quite common to find things that were regarded as entirely reasonable, ethical, and acceptable in earlier periods regarded with great contempt and disgust in later periods… If you read the Bible, say, you find that it is one of the most genocidal texts in our literature. It’s God who orders his chose people to wipe out the Amaledites down to the last man, woman and child.

… [A] little over a century ago, slavery was widely regarded as not only not wrong but even as highly ethical… If history goes on for another hundred years, which is dubious, I imagine that people will be looking back to practices that we accept and condone and will regard them as morally monstrous. In fact, it is not difficult to point to some of them. For example, we now regard it as a moral monstrosity for one person to enslave another, but we regard it as proper and just for people to be compelled to rent themselves to others to be able to survive – what was once called “wage slavery.” Someday we may come to appreciate that this too is an infringement on fundamental human rights – as, in fact, has long been argued in the libertarian socialist tradition. Similarly, the state system is based on principles of control, domination, and coercion that will, I hope, be regarded as morally intolerable… (“Aspects of a Theory of Mind (December 1984)”)

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