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

By Philip Van Ness Myers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE MORAL LIFE IN ANCIENT EGYPT: AN IDEAL OF SOCIAL JUSTICE

I. CIRCUMSTANCES AND IDEAS WHICH MOLDED AND MOTIVED MORALITY

Egypt was the China of the ancient Mediterraneanworld. Like the Chinese, the Egyptians were a comparatively unmixed people. During the historic period no new elements of importance were incorporated with the native population. Again, like the civilization of China, that of Egypt throughout a great part of the historic age was singularly static. After having made wonderful advance in early times the Egyptians ceased to make further noteworthy progress.

A homogeneous population and a comparatively static civilization

Both these fundamental facts of Egyptian history had great significance for Egyptian morals; for since when races mingle their blood they mingle also their moralities, it is a matter of supreme importance to the moral life of a people whether on the one hand it has, as the centuries have passed, undergone a change in physical type through the incorporation of new racial elements, or on the other hand has preserved unchanged its racial type and physical characteristics.

Equally important for the moral ideal is it whether the civilization of which it forms one element is progressive or unprogressive; for changes in the moral standard are largely dependent on changes in the other elements of civilization. Where the intellectual life and the religious ideas remain unmodified, and where all political, social, and industrial institutions remain essentially unchanged, we need not look for fundamental changes in ethical ideas and convictions. How

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