Like our predecessors, most modern humans are complacent in accepting, without justification, the universal and timeless validity of our most deeply held values. It is almost unthinkable for us to even consider the possibility that certain practices and institutions of our primitive past which currently revolt us might once have represented moral progress for human society, given what came before. While few scholars of pre-history credit a naively idealistic and atavistic vision of our distant past featuring a “noble savage” living in harmony with nature, a more subtle delusion predominates- that of believing that those people of earlier times who believed themselves moral subscribed to beliefs and lived in a manner in conformance to modern conceptions of morality. The notion that self-definedly ethical individuals of earlier times perpetrated cannibalism, torture, genocide, human sacrifice, and enslavement strikes us as absurd, repugnant, and alien. Equally discomforting is the implication of such a concept as it might be applied by future scholars of current human society, who might consider actions which to our eyes seem harmless and innocent, such as eating a hamburger, as barbaric, cruel, wasteful, and mindless, when compared to the standards of moral evolution of their society. The question of whether morality is absolute or relative is not at issue here. Rather, there arises the question of whether morality is to be defined as a specific set of universally applicable tenets referring to specific acts and institutions, or whether it is to be construed as an evolutionary process comprising a gradual spiritual progress towards a lessening of suffering and waste, and greater happiness for all.
(c) Copyright 2009 by A. Rogolsky