[ExI] re Odyssey, hero
anders at aleph.se
Fri Oct 2 09:24:56 UTC 2015
While one certainly *can* judge anything in any way, there are some
judgements that make more sense than others. Critiquing the Illiad for
not taking climate change seriously is kind of pointless. Arguing
whether Odysseus should be regarded as a hero is far more apt; I can
imagine ancient Greeks discussing it too at a symposium.
Analysing past views via current views is OK. It is possible to say that
ancient Greek treatment of women was unequal and indeed unjust according
to universal timeless principles we have discovered. But we have to
(more or less explicitely) say "given these ethical positions, Odysseus
was..." and we can analyse how these views have shifted.
But *starting* with the view that current ethics is the one correct
ethics and then making judgements about a work that clearly is a great
example of how some values have shifted enormously seems to be a
problematic approach. Because it undermines itself: the whole approach
is predicated on us being right *now*, and using the very same approach
in the past (using values we now regard as wrong) it would have produced
bad judgements - so using it has to assume we know we are perfecly right
now, despite millennia of people being wrong yet convinced about the
very same thing.
The problem is when the naive projection of our values gets in the way
of learning anything from the text, or enjoying it. By current standards
Melville's Moby Dick is a paean to environmental destruction,
colonialism and racism. Yet it would be stupid to throw it away as a
deeply immoral book. We can gleefully point out assumptions Melville did
not notice that date the work, but it is unreasonable to hold him
morally responsible outside his world. That is just as silly as
criticising the Illiad's climate change policy.
There are interesting cases like HP. Lovecraft where one can argue that
racism was actually integral to his stories. I am not convinced this
renders them unreadable or immoral, but I can see for example why the SF
community is starting to reconsider giving out awards in his name. As
transhumanists it behooves us to look at some of the similar skeletons
in our intellectual cupboards and think about whether to dress them up
and hide them, drag them into the light, or throw away everything
tainted with them.
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
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