The Standards of Our Time

You hear this a lot.

“Oh, but we mustn’t judge Dickens/Jefferson/John Knox etc by the standards of our time.

Why not?

“In their time, attitude towards women/servants/black people etc were different from ours.”

So what?

So what if ‘in their time’ attitudes were different? Does that make it alright?

We have two points to address.

One: What were the standards of that time? In the present day, we know that not everyone has the same opinions and attitudes. Why would it be so different two or three hundred years ago? Throughout history there have been protestors, radicals, those who fought for fairness and equality. People who held illiberal or cruel attitudes were challenged by people in their own time.

Two: Nowadays, if people in one country or society hear about mistreatment of labourers, or women, or different racial groups in another society, they usually criticise it (except for those who have their heads buried in the tripe of ‘multiculturalism’). They don’t say, “Oh, but we mustn’t judge them by the standards of our place.” So if special dispensation is not given for spatial reasons, why should we give it for temporal ones?

“We mustn’t judge them by the standards of our time”.

Yes we must. If keeping someone in slavery is wrong now, it was wrong then too. Acceptance by society doesn’t mean that is good and right. If we don’t judge them by the standards of our time, standards that I hope are a bit more enlightened and compassionate, then what exactly is the use of the progress we have made in all these centuries?

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