History as Past Ethics: An Introduction to the History of Morals

By Philip Van Ness Myers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE DAWN OF MORALITY: CONSCIENCE IN THE KINSHIP GROUP

I. INSTITUTIONS, IDEAS, AND CONDITIONS OF LIFE DETERMINING THE RULES OF CONDUCT

The most important social product of the human evolution on the lower levels of civilization was the patriarchal family or clan. This community of kinsfolk is the great history-making group. It was the seed plot and nursery not only of almost every social and political institution of the historic peoples, but of their morality as well. In the bosom of this group were born and nurtured the chief of those affections and sentiments into which enters an ethical element and which form the basis of the moral life.1

The kinship group

The fundamental bond uniting this group was the bond of blood. The members of the group were, or believed themselves to be, the actual descendants of a common ancestor. It was this tie of blood, this physical relationship real or assumed, that rendered the clan such a closely knit body and created its feeling of corporate oneness. "The members of one kindred," says W. Robertson Smith in describing this characteristic of the Semitic clan, "looked on themselves as one living whole, a single animated mass of blood, flesh, and bones, of which no member could be touched without all the members suffering. . . . If one of the clan has been murdered,

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1
"The larger morality which embraces all mankind has its basis in habits of loyalty, love, and self-sacrifice which were originally formed and grew strong in the narrow circle of the family or the clan."-- W. ROBERTSON SMITH , The Religion of the Semites, 2d ed., p. 54.

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