Which of our policies and actions will be deemed grievously wrong in the future?

In the opening pages of his last book, published posthumously in 1913, the natuaralist and polymath Albert Russel Wallace (a co-developer, alongside Darwin, of the theory of evolution) observed that "that which at one time and place is held to be right and proper is, at another time or place, considered to be not only wrong, but one of the greatest of crimes" (Social Environment and Moral Progress, p. 8).  Examples of policies and actions illustrating Wallace's point are all too abundant in all parts of the world during the past several centuries.  Changes in ethics are universal, though they do not occur in the same way or at the same time in different cultures or even different subcultures.  

What do we know, and how do we understand changes in ethical perspectives and standards over time and across cultures?  More bluntly, can we gain a better understanding of the dynamics of ethical shifts, and, if so, how do we approach the task?  In the decades after Wallace's book was published, social, political and religious elites were convinced that policies based on eugenics; forced sterilization; the removal of indigenous children--and in some places, poor children--from their families and placing them in institutions; purposeful deforestation; unlimited exploitation of marine and other living species; environment-degrading industrial practices; political authoritarianism and many other practices were "right and proper."  More and more people, in more and more places, now believe such policies and practices to have been not only misguided but morally wrong.  Their deleterious effects are bemoaned today. 

Important progress has been made in the last few decades in some realms, such as climate change, disease prevention and nutrition and health-related behaviors.  Can we begin to work systematically toward identifying ways of anticipating--and possibly redirecting--current policies and actions across a wide range of domains that may, in the near to medium term future, be similarly condemned not only as harmful but as ethically deplorable? 

Depending on the level of interest, I am considering organizing a panel for the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (end of August-beginning of September), moving forward from a volume of THE ANNALS American Academy of Political and Social Science (Vol. 617, May 2008)  published ten years ago for which I was special editor: The Politics of History in Comparative Perspective.  The deadline for submitting panel proposals is January 16, 2018.  If interested, please communicate with me directly at mheisler@umd.edu

Martin O. Heisler; Professor Emeritus of Government and Politics, University of Maryland.

Views: 99

Tags: anticipating, change, ethical

Comment

You need to be a member of Global Ethics Network to add comments!

Join Global Ethics Network

Carnegie Council

A Case for Giving Climate Migrants Protected Legal Status

With climate change already affecting vast regions of the planet, Bard College's Brian Mateo makes the case for expanding legal protections for refugees to include people displaced due to environmental issues. Whether by updating the 1951 Convention or working on a new global agreement, Mateo writes that this an urgent human rights issue for vulnerable populations today and future generations.

Need for a New Consensus

Foreign policy experts are having diffuclty linking the negative implications of a shift towards trasactionalism for U.S. foreign aid to voters. This begs the question: Should there be a clear quid pro quo for U.S. assistance?

The End of the U.S.-Taliban Talks? with Jonathan Cristol

Despite progress over the last year, Donald Trump effectively ended the latest round of U.S.-Taliban negotiations with a tweet earlier this month. Will talks continue in a more understated way? Does this change anything on the ground in Afghanistan? And what is the Taliban doing in Moscow? Jonathan Cristol, author of "The United States and the Taliban before and after 9/11," discusses all this and more.

SUBSCRIBE TODAY

VIDEOS

SUPPORT US

GEO-GOVERNANCE MATTERS

© 2019   Created by Carnegie Council.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service


The views and opinions expressed in the media, comments, or publications on this website are those of the speakers or authors and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions held by Carnegie Council.