The document, “Ex Post Facto Ethics” by Stanley Schmidt reveals many important points to our society. He stresses the fact that historians today are Judging and frowning upon what important historical figures thought and acted upon in their time. Although his article was very specific in examples his generalization of society being a uniform mass is his own hypocritical example of “Ex Post Facto Ethics”. It also proved to be hypocritical in its argument about passing Judgment much after the matter has passed.
Schmidt stresses the fact that people in our present day society are constantly condemning upon our ancestors for violation of “ex post facto moral laws” when, in reality, the general accepted standards and values are changing even at this moment. Therefore, we do not understand how these people of history thought, felt, and/or believed what was right or wrong. In other words, we are unaware of the great impact that the social context of their period had on basic morality. It is easy to make Judgment of other peoples’ actions in spite of our own levels of what is right and what is wrong in our eyes.
To most of us now, the perception and understanding of basic moral principles differ drastically from the perception and understanding of basic moral principles of the ancient believers, historical figures, or the primary establisher of our country. For example, the article explains how students and teachers rail “against George Washington and Thomas Jefferson because they kept slaves”. The establisher of our country had come from Europe, where it was taken for granted to have slaves; it caused no harm or foul to anyone but the slaves themselves. The slaves were only considered property). But that is where the controversy begins: today, slavery is immoral, cruel, and unacceptable. The article states that, “We can Judge the quality and importance of their [people of the past] contributions to understanding the universe only in terms of what they did with the knowledge available to them. ” When Schmidt says this, he is referring to what Isaac Newton thought and believed he knew in his time about Physics. Consequently, Schmidt implied that we cannot Judge based on what we now now, but on what they knew then.
In AP Euro, there are countless times where one, as a member of our society, learns about events, beliefs, traditions, etc. , that are now considered immoral and unaccepted by society. For instance, in the early ages and throughout the history of Europe, women were considered property. They were traded, sold, raped, and killed without any punishment whatsoever; it was Just the normal way to react towards women. Today, we learn, in history class, of these actions done by historical figures and our first reaction is, “What were they thinking? R “How can they do such a thing,” but in all honestly, that is Just the style of life they lived in at the time. Knowing and comprehending these aspects play a key role in understanding the history that have led society to where it is today. For this same reason, the instructor wanted us to read this article. It not only illustrates how the perspective and understanding of basic moral principles evolve over time, but also emphasizes the fact that we cannot Judge the actions of the people of the past based on our own perspective and understanding. We will use this understanding of the past throughout the year in class.
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