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Retaining Your Morals In The Face Of Historiography

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I had a recent discussion with my older brother. He asserted that morals don't change, I asserted that they have. He used as an example the word of wisdom, saying it's been the same since it was revealed. I said yes the text has remained nearly the same, but it's interpretation and practice has varied in dramatic ways. This did not sit well with him.

So now I have been pondering this question again, for him I suppose. How do we know our morals are "true" or "right" or "ethical" or any other affirmative you choose, especially in the face of new historical narratives? If a historian can convincingly show you that your moral beliefs, the very ones you hold dear, in fact have a history, and that what today is considered the "right" thing to do was not always considered right, and it was "made right" due to various convergences of natural phenomena, social pressures, cultural trends and political machinations, how can you be so sure it's still right? Even if you like it, does that make it "true"? It may seem this question is pointed at the religiously devout, and it is, but I think it has just as much if not more implications for the secular person with morals. Take for example the debate right now about the "rightness" of polygamy. Many of the folks who see themselves on the religiously progressive end wish to denounce the practice, posthumously, in favor of monogamy, and have all sorts of terrible and heart wrenching anecdotes to back the argument. The problem is, how can we know that our senses of morality about our own culture of monogamy, with all it's ideas concerning the nature of love, romance, equality and goodness are not just biases constructed by our own culture and not really moral at all? Can we know that a society in which polygamy is fully accepted and supported (wich nineteenth century mormon society never was) is any "worse" than a monogamous one? But this thread is not about polygamy, its about any moral you have. Look hard enough and you will discover that it has changed so much, and the trajectories usually can't be simply labeled either "progression" or "regression". Whether it be your attitudes about equality, justice, mercy, sexuality, family structures, relationship to property, wealth, health, punishment, love, etc. etc. , they have all changed, and often the changes were for much "messier" reasons than we like to think. If any of this made sense, please share your thoughts. :)

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The Word of Wisdom is possibly the worst example of eternal truth considering it makes no pretense of being such a thing. The scripture itself says it exists because of conditions we live in now.


The best way to be sure is to seek the approval of God. If you have it you are doing well. If you do not have it reconsider. If you are not sure if you have it then find out.

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Morality is usually about staying alive, and what promotes a peaceful society.

One used to be able to smoke in public, as long as one was not smoking marijuana. Now the only thing one CAN smoke in public is marijuana.

Go figure. ;)

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You will find very little that doesn't change over time. We might posit that God doesn't change, but certainly our understanding of God and how God interacts with his children changes. We easily speak of differences between the God of the Old Testament and of the New. Even seemingly firm ideas such as the ten commandments can see differences over time. The definition of adultery is different in the modern mind than it was for ancient Israel. With all of that ability to change, the one sure thing is that when there is a prophet on the earth, morality that matters can be defined by what the current prophet teaches. Through the constant change that is inevitable, that tie to a current God to guide in a current world is the foundation of morality. Assumptions that something doesn't change will have a hard time in any study of history if you look wide or deep enough.

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Humans tend to consider their personal beliefs/morals/values as self-evident, and have a hard time understanding how it can be any different for others. It is a trait of our species to put our very own largely socio-economic constructs on the same footing as empirical, logical, mathematical "truths", and consider any variation as barbaric, "unnatural".


Of course, in some respect, at the most fundamental level, we all have similar desires, and needs. But how we go about fulfilling them, and the limits imposed on our endeavour (how far we are ready to go) differ between individuals, and even more between cultures.


So yea, to use a colorful French Canadian expression, your brother is dans les patates (in the potatoes, meaning he's mistaken). :lol:


I would recommend a relatively short and accessible work by Nietzsche called On the Genealogy of Morals, which you would certainly find interesting in light of your initial post. Your brother certainly could use it as well, although it is not for nothing that the author once wrote: "I am no man. I am dynamite." =@

Edited by Stroopwafel
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