The Evolution of Moral Understanding by Christopher Robert Hallpike

By Christopher Robert Hallpike

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34 Relativism perpetuation of societies involves the same basic problems whether the society is in Australia, Africa, or Arkansas. (Linton 1952: 646) Cultural traits that occur in the great majority of societies, ‘near universals’, are likely to be as significant as true universals and to require the same sort of explanations that draw upon the common features of the physical world, human nature, the mind, and the inherent constraints of social organization. Where the possibility of variation seems very large, as in the case of language, even ‘statistical’ universals are very significant.

2. Moral understanding is attained by the logical analysis of ethical concepts, and progress in this cannot be related, as such, to changes in social organization. Nor can a survey of false moral ideas by anthropologists, historians, or psychologists contribute anything to our understanding of ethical truth. 3. It has long been known that values cannot be derived from facts, and it is therefore inherently impossible to try to base any theory of ethics on the social condition of man. 4. Moral rules can only be derived from divine commandments, not from the human condition, so a sociological theory of ethics is fundamentally misconceived.

This means, in particular, examining with some care the basic tenets of modern moral philosophy and scrutinizing its claims to objectivity. We shall see that it has a number of major shortcomings, for example: 1. The idea that values cannot be derived from facts; in other words, that evaluation has no basis in reality, because all teleological thinking was rejected after the Renaissance. 2. An extreme individualism, associated historically with commercialism and Puritanism, in particular, so that the individual is regarded as prior to society and the idea of a social order transcending the individual has become very hard to comprehend.

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