Social Ethics: Sociology and the Future of Society

By Charlotte Perkins Gilman; Michael R. Hill et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
SOME BASES OF ETHICAL
VALUATION

AMONG OUR earliest ethical percepts was the recognition that not only were certain acts “wrong,” but that some were far more wrong than others.

Our judgment in the matter varies, however, from the lowest social group to the highest, and varies among the highest. Not only so, but in a specialized social group such as a great modern nation, we find that ethical values differ as among classes, professions, ages, and sexes, to say nothing of religions.

The whole course of human life is hedged about with ethical restrictions; from the baby who is taught that his essential virtue is keeping quiet, through all the positive and negative conduct required in the different trades, and in the frankly open division between the ethics of the two sexes.

So complex, so confused, so contradictory, is this field of social perception, that in order to form any clear idea of it we must study it from the side, watching the gradual appearance of these distinctions as society developed.

No thorough, all-embracing view is offered, but a brief survey of certain conspicuous well-known ethical concepts, and their course of development.

We are to conceive of early man as coming into a vague, fluctuating state of consciousness, which we naturally call “self-consciousness” because it is the self which registers its sensations. But the main subject

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