Are Modern People Morally Advanced?

An excellent post by Bruce W. Davidson:

In regard to widespread disdain for the Middle Ages, C. S. Lewis felt that many modern people suffer from a kind of “chronological snobbery” and that “the modern conception of Progress … is simply a myth, supported by no evidence whatever.” Certainly many minds smugly assume our world’s moral superiority to that of people in the past. That assumption merits some close critical scrutiny.

This claim probably does not rest on an improvement in the numbers of deaths in war and genocide. Many millions died in past atrocities such as the Mongol invasions of Asia and Europe and the Muslim conquests of India; similar shocking numbers fell victim to communism and fascism in the twentieth century. If most modern abortions are equivalent to infanticides and abortion figures are also factored in, Wiker concludes in Moral Darwinism that we have still more “massive murder on a scale unheard of.”

Probably believers in modern moral superiority base their outlook mainly on the abolition of slavery and overt discrimination against people because of things like race in economically developed societies. This overlooks some important historical facts about these accomplishments: slavery and discrimination have been universal phenomena throughout most of human history. For example, in Japan until the middle of the twentieth century, poor families often sold their own daughters into lifelong prostitution to pay off debts. In many instances such practices have been eliminated largely thanks to the influence of Christianity – a legacy of the past. Moreover, slavery continues to thrive in some Muslim states like Sudan to this day.

We can mention other prominent ethical failings of modernity:

1. Modern moral thought is completely incoherent. As one example, consider the strange spectacle of morally indignant people with no clear moral beliefs to be indignant about. The progressive philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell denied that there is any such thing as an objective moral standard yet was a self-righteous moralist all his life, especially in the political sphere. Similarly, OWS protesters professed postmodern moral relativism while stridently denouncing the avarice of the rich. Surely this has to be considered mind-boggling moral incoherence.

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