Are we progressing morally?
One is often confronted by the question whether the world had made any moral progress or are we proceeding in the direction of moral progress? An answer to which all may agree, is difficult to find.
Thinkers have presented two schools of thought on this subject. Some assert that man has added moral progress and is doing so, and as examples they point towards international institutions and international treaties and relations etc.
On the other hand some people opine that far from morally progressing, man is going towards degeneration. Thus, there are two opinions on this subject in the philosophers of history.
According to Spengler and other philosophers of history, man has degenerated to such an extent that his end is near. On the other hand some people declare man’s progress in the future.
Actually, it should here be noted that a mechanistic civilization, physical culture, urbanization, industrialization, atomic energy etc., have no essential relation to moral ideals and neither is its development an indication of moral degeneration.
All these are means which can be used in reference to any ideal. Thus, in order to evaluate man’s moral progress it is essential to see the development of his ideals. At the same time the extent to which these ideals are obeyed will also have to be noted. But before it, it would be better to make a comprehensive survey of the criteria of moral progress.
Criteria of Moral Progress:
A difference of opinion exists upon the subject of the criterion of moral progress hi the same way as it is upon the subject of moral ideas, but notwithstanding this, the following are roughly the major criteria of moral progress-
(1) Discovery of the Individual:
According to James Seth, the fundamental criterion of entire moral progress is the discovery of the individual. In ancient times a person was governed more by the society or family.
Nowadays the individual is becoming more and more free he can spend his life as he desires. In this way, man’s moral progress has always evolved towards the discovery of the individual. In the words of Seth, “That progress is, in sum and substance, the gradual discovery of the individual.”
(2) Progress from virile virtue to soft virtues:
A second criterion, of moral progress is the progress from virile virtues to soft virtues. Soft virtues are characteristic of human beings. In this progress towards love, sympathy, non-violence, forgiveness, patience, sacrifice, etc. is moral progress.
(3) Widening of the area of moral virtues:
A widening of the field of moral virtues can be taken to be an indication of moral progress for example virtues like non-violence, truth, sacrifice were formerly treated as limited to individual life alone.
Now they are accepted in political fields, even if today verbally. This is a sign of moral progress. In the same way, proceeding from narrow nationality to benevolent nationality and thence to internationality is a sign of moral progress.
(4) More emphasis upon internal rather than external virtues:
Similarly more emphasis upon internal rather than external virtues is an indication of moral progress because ultimately morality is dependent upon the individual’s virtues. For example, perfectionism is a higher ideal than utilitarianism. The ideal of self realization is superior to the search for pleasure.
(5) Deepening of moral insight:
Deepening of moral insight, too, is a sign of moral progress. For example, aggressive races treat courage only as physical courage or courage in the battlefield. Developed people interpret courage as moral courage.
Similarly, deepening of moral insight in respect of virtues like non-violence, sacrifice, sympathy etc., is an indication of moral progress. Green particularly has been emphatic about this criterion of moral progress.
Man has made moral Progress:
By judging with all the above criteria it can be inferred whether man has progressed morally. Comparing modern moral ideals to medieval and ancient ideals and comparing the freedom of today’s individual to the freedom enjoyed by the individual of medieval and ancient societies will make it undeniably clear that some progress has been make.
Science has today made man’s knowledge comprehensive and has afforded him opportunity to progress forwared. The development of the means of transport and communications has made the world smaller. Thus the field of moral ideals is on the increase.
Atomic weapons have made wars self-destructive and the soft virtues are gaining in importance. An increase in knowledge has made moral insight more profound. Slavery, hierarchy, exploitation, inequality and discrimination are everywhere treated as bad. Thus, it is certain, that as far as the above criteria are concerned, some moral progress has indubitably been made. If immorality has increased somewhere it is due to the high velocity and complexity of life.
The individual today has more opportunities and indulge in immoral activity. When comparing with ancient and medieval moral life, it would not do to forget the transformed conditions which we have today. It is true that progress at present is not permanent and hopeful but it cannot be denied that there has been some progress.