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Eternal Morality – What Julian Baggini is wrong about
The British philosopher Julian Baggini is right when he writes in an article on Big Think:
“ the idea that racist, sexist or otherwise bigoted views automatically disqualify a historical figure from admiration is misguided. Anyone who cannot bring themselves to admire such a historical figure betrays a profound lack of understanding about just how socially conditioned all our minds are, even the greatest. Because the prejudice seems so self-evidently wrong, they just cannot imagine how anyone could fail to see this without being depraved.
Their outrage arrogantly supposes that they are so virtuous that they would never be so immoral, even when everyone around them was blind to the injustice. „
But Baggini is wrong in the following:
„But there is a very important difference between the living and the dead. The living can come to see how their actions were wrong, acknowledge that, and show remorse.
We are not responsible for creating the distorted values that shaped us and our society but we can learn to take responsibility for how we deal with them now.“
For even the living cannot choose whether or not what they do corresponds to the values and moral rules of their society (since there is no free will).
That is why there is no difference between the dead and the living and that is why there can be no attribution of guilt to the latter. The only difference that there is for the living is that they live in a different time than the dead and thus in an environment in which the prevailing morality has changed: whether the living can adapt their behavior to it or not, they do not have that in control.
Sentences such as that the living could „learn to take responsibility“ „are nothing but
„But the worry that we would be unable to condemn what most needs condemnation is baseless. Misogyny and racism are no less repulsive because they are the products of societies as much, if not more, than they are of individuals. To excuse Hume is not to excuse racism; to excuse Aristotle is not to excuse sexism. Racism and sexism were never okay, people simply wrongly believed that they were.“
Racism and sexism were never okay, people simply wrongly believed that they were – that is such a ridiculous sentence … as if one were to say that it was never okay to hold slaves, to believe in witches or that human sacrifices graciously appease the gods … .
There is no natural law for a certain morality. There is no natural law that excludes racism, sexism or slavery or homophobia.
Morality is always a product of the environment, of society, there is no such thing as a superior morality that would always and at all times be valid.