by Patrick Appel
Jonathan Rée wonders about moral progress:
[If] you can see vice where others find nothing but virtue, or degeneracy where they see improvement, or corruption where they see probity, you can become a Person of Principle at no cost to yourself, while everyone else will look like a tiresome Trimmer, an exasperating Polyanna or an impermeable Pangloss. “Men are fond of murmuring,” as Voltaire once put it; “there is a pleasure in complaining,” he said, and “we delight in viewing only evil and exaggerating it.”
As a matter of fact, moral optimism is not as dead as you might think: it often floats to the surface of contemporary common sense without occasioning much comment.
When people want to protest at contemporary horrors torture, say, or forced marriage, human trafficking, or racial violence they are likely to condemn them as “Victorian”, “medieval”, “primitive” or “antiquated”, while expressing astonishment that they should still be countenanced in the twenty-first century. The notion that the epochs of past time can function as terms of moral opprobrium, or that the present date constitutes some kind of moral standard, testifies to a stubborn faith in something like Kant’s doctrine of progress.
(Hat tip: 3QD)