I've recently read a manga closely related to ethics here.

In this manga, the old teacher mentions how our definition of "justice" seems to change from time to time.

After afew re-reads, it seems that he is talking more about "morals" rather than justice (But I could be wrong).

My main question would be that is it morally right for our morals to be changing from time to time?

Frankly, I'm absolutely stumped at coming up with a good answer. I've found afew articles that say moral standards are unchanging. But I've also found some that say human ethics SHOULD change from time to time.

To me it seems that ethics should be something that "withstands the test of time" (so to speak). To follow values that seems to change constantly seems as though we're following a fad of sorts.

  • You might like this answer on defining ethics: 'Ethics: a simple definition using simple words' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/83088/…
    – CriglCragl
    Oct 14 at 16:35
  • What you found is that "moral standards" mean different things to different people, and have different properties, some take them as eternal and absolute, others as evolving and relative. So it is not productive to ask about ethics and moral standards the way your post asks, as if they were rules of arithmetic that everybody understands the same way and agrees on. So what really is your question? Point you to philosophers who support ethics "withstanding the test of time"? But your link already does that. What else, what sort of answer are you looking for?
    – Conifold
    Oct 14 at 20:34
  • Everything gets worse. Only one thing gets better: Morals get worse.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 16 at 18:03

Moral standards are different today in different cultures. So you would assume that they also change over time.

As a simple example, take gay sex in the UK: It got you a severe jail sentence in the 1950's. In the 1960's it was made legal as long as you watched out, but you wouldn’t want your neighbours or the police to know. Then every year it has become a little bit more acceptable, until today many youngsters don’t even get why anyone would be against it.

PS. I absolutely disagree with the downvoting comment. “Love your neighbour” may have been a thing. But people didn’t. Or they followed the rule but defined anyone gay as “not my neighbour”. Or they decided that “love my neighbour” means beating “the gay” out of them.

  • -1: I wouldn't have said so. 'Love thy neighbour' means loving him even if he is gay ... Oct 16 at 20:48

How could justice be the same, now we can afford and administrate prisons, as it was when they weren't an option?

The UK penal code -for those who couldn't buy their way past it, & pay for imprisonment- became known as The Bloody Code, because it was basically death for every serious crime. Hence the phrase 'You might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb'. The unwillingness of juries to convict people of stealing food when they were starving, forced the provision of better poor-laws, and eventually justice reform.

The Roman concept of justice was a series of literal trials. We usually think tortures, but in practice they were basically only for people the court was sure were guilty and would not confess, and those who pleaded guilty generally would not face full penalties (eg exile not death).

The bible prescribed the death penalty for extremely minor seeming crimes, like blasphemy, sabbath breaking, or being a foreigner that gets too close to the tabernacle.

The social worlds of these eras was incredibly different from our own, and from each other. People demand 'something be done' to recognise a crime, and when prison wasn't a workable concept (it evolved from jail, holding for trial), that meant things like mutilation, facial branding, or public shaming like the stocks - which we would find unacceptable now.

So I would argue this is not just about changes in jurisprudence, but the instincts behind that, our culture of what we feel is just and fair, because that was about what was necessary to maintain social order, to sustain the collaborative organism of a city, people, or empire.

We talked about an edge-case for consequentialist theories of justice here: Is artificially generating images of minors in sexual positions unethical? And I made the case that social unrest or threat of it, is a major driver of jurisprudence. It is how hard lines about what is socially acceptable, get driven into statute. The Baron's Rebellion against King John that got the Magna Carta signed is another example - and as above, it's provisions of habeus corpus and jury trials ended up having lasting impacts on treatment of the poor. Consequences of the lines society draws, how they enter statute, is crucial. This is the mark of culture, evolving, developing, not born from a process of sterile reason alone.

An old aphorism though, says 'Hard cases make bad laws'. The actual attainment of ceasing the causes of outrages, must be checked against hasty action to secure only the appearance of that, in the moment of outrage. The non-logical non-rational side of this can be understood from this almost uniquely human behaviour: How do ethicists tackle the question "Is it immoral to have sex in public places?" Is it possible to use rational and empirical ideas to answer? In doing justice, "A man can do as he wills, but not will as he wills." We can reason out why we have a taboo against sex in public, but the enaction of the taboo arises from outrage, a non-rational process (assuming among adults is a given premise). We have instincts for making societies work, which we have to reconcile with reason. But our oughts cannot derive from what is alone.

I would argue justice, fairness, morality, all evolve. They don't change radically, with discontinuity, but in dialogue, one age to another, one generation to the next. James C Scott's use of the term metis, and the idea of intergenerational legibility, are very interesting on this.

Marital rape was only made a crime in the UK in the early 1990s, illustrating how something now unconscionable was considered totally acceptable in the past. Justice depends on culture, and it never stands still.

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