Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on July 29, 2011

in Civil Society, Complexity & Emergence

… is from page 101 of Will Durant’s 1935 book Our Oriental Heritage:

Moral progress in history lies not so much in the improvement of the moral code as in the enlargement of the area within which it is applied.

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Daniel Kuehn July 29, 2011 at 8:01 am

Unfortunately, people who stand in the way of expanding the scope of an existing moral code usually argue that what is actually being done is jettisoning the existing moral code. An important observation by Durant, nevertheless.

Seth July 29, 2011 at 9:30 am

It’s the dynamics of the ‘enlargement’ process that’s key.

If the enlargement is done through evolutionary, trial-and-error adaptation and adoption, the moral code that results (either in production or attraction) in the largest numbers of folks tends to win out.

If the enlargement is conducted by a small group of people who attempt to force their moral code mutations on everyone else to supersede what has previously evolved, things usually don’t end so well.

Daniel Kuehn July 29, 2011 at 9:54 am

The record seems to show that even when the process is evolutionary people who would otherwise claim to support emergent order balk and show their true colors.

Seth July 29, 2011 at 10:39 am

I’m not sure how that relates to my comment.

Richard Stands July 29, 2011 at 8:52 am

Of course, I view this as mostly a regrettable trend: Perhaps revisiting the premise, teachings, and effect of a moral code might yield more useful progress than simply applying it to, say, ever-increasing spheres of forceful application by government.

I’ve often found value in the former and been repulsed by the latter.

vidyohs July 29, 2011 at 9:01 am

Yes DK has a point though it was expressed as poorly as I am capable of doing frequently.

To expand the area in which a moral code is applied, the moral code being expanded will either supplant the moral code in the area into which it is expanding, or at least bring changes/improvements to the moral code that existed there before being replaced or changed/improved by the expanding moral code.

To assume no moral code exists in conquered areas is a tad foolish, why I have even heard it said that even the looney left has a few things they will not do, some things they will not lie about; however skeptical I may be about that claim.

If we recognize that remote possibility then we can see that even remotest primitive cannibal tribes had some sort of moral code.

Greg Webb July 29, 2011 at 11:40 am

An excellent quote from WIll Durant! Many who attempt to “improve” the existing moral code do so to subvert existing morals. For example, the statists “moral” argument for wealth redistribution violates the moral code against theft. So, the statist “redefines” theft to exclude wealth redistribution and thus violates the moral code against lying.

Joe Cushing July 29, 2011 at 5:29 pm

I think we have had a degradation of the code but a greater coverage of it over the last 100 years. So a greater percentage of us are free but we are less free than when the US was founded.

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