Title 3 – TOK Essay May 2017 KQ 4 : Is it possible to make ethical judgements about historical events using the standards of their time?



A moral relativist would say that our values today can’t be compared with the values from another era. What was right for them was right for them. What is right for us is right for us.

Miranda Fricker , a philosopher and moral relativist, believes that ,” the test for blameworthiness is whether the person could have known any different. “The proper standards by which to judge people are the best standards that were available to them at the time.It’s unfair to blame people for failing to be moral pioneers, the attitude of blame presupposes that the person was in a position to have done better.”

The opponents of relativism on the contrary consider the ‘blame and responsibility ‘ of the historical events and actions ‘pivotal’ for making amends for historic moral mistakes and prevent its occurrence in future. Relativism cannot overcome the ‘Reason , nor can it override the sense of morality that is basic and inherent to humanity , that makes some fundamental absolutes of right and wrong, regardless of the opinions of any given society. Even when there disagreements among different times and cultures, there are concepts more universal, more fundamental, than the standards of time.

For example “ For years the Australian government refused an apology to its indigenous peoples – in particular for the practice of forcibly removing children from their families.It seems utterly shocking now, but it was only in 2008 that Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd finally made the formal apology on behalf of the state . So arguably, the current state might be blameless, yet somehow responsible.”

In another case , Turing, the brilliant mathematician who among other things helped crack the Enigma Code in World War II, was one of many people charged with gross indecency in 1952, under laws criminalising homosexuality.He killed himself two years later. An apology is an incredibly important act that our institutions should increasingly become capable of – people who have been wronged by the state are owed an apology by the state, even if the individuals in government are different from those at the time.”

Our response to the issue of homosexuality have so rapidly evolved and changed within a generation that it may well be very probable that we may look back at views we once held and feel horrified and ashamed. And it is all the more evitable that our future generations will detect , identify and judge our flaws as we did the same for our historical past events and societies.