Consider practise of sati by hindus or human sacrifice in aztec culture. The people of these cultures accept their respective customs.

To keep focus I limit this question to the case where the victims are willing to sacrifice themselves.

How is it morally justified that conquerors who are there by force ban these practises?

  • This depends of course on values, or moral framework. For example, a framework that places high priority on individual productive output and low priority on individual liberty may see it fit to prevent deviation from high output. It may be more precise to ask, what justification did group x use for banning behaviour y?
    – Michael
    Commented Jan 15, 2023 at 15:39
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    I recently got an answer here stating the standpoint that morals are defined by the society, and I think under this assumption, this seems like a good question. But as long as such an assumption is not stated, it's not really answerable. If one believes in some absolute moral values, then the question has a very different answer, for example.
    – kutschkem
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 17:17
  • Are you asking if it is morally justified (I would argue that the actions of the conquerors are all irrevocably tainted by their status as conqueror, and that the only moral action would be to give up their conquest), or are you asking for the ways that such actions are justified in the language of morality by historical conquerors? Spanish conquest of the new world was justified by a moral demand to spread Christianity, British conquest of India by a moral demand for a "superior white race" to carry out a civilising mission (both were really carried out for material gain), that sort of thing?
    – evilsoup
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 20:41
  • In all cases where morals are said to conflict, everyone is wrong. Start Over, arrive at an answer mutually. Otherwise, it is just stupid. It is like a jury trial: everyone has to agree or no deal. That's what makes the outcome moral. (Of course, they have to converge on the right answer, too...)
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 11:19

3 Answers 3


The conquerors could make several claims to morally justify this ban, from their point of view. Some I've thought of are:

  • A religious argument: In many religions, suicide (knowingly and voluntarily taking your own life) is considered a sin or otherwise unorthodox. Therefore, if the conquerors do not view the sacrifice as religiously acceptable, they could argue they must defend their God's wishes for all of humanity. Likewise, they might see it as challenging their own religion.
  • About consent: The conquerors might argue that the victim has not truly consented to the ritual, and that they have instead been coerced by their group or family, or just by group conformity, and they must be protected. It could also be argued that the victim has been manipulated or otherwise brainwashed into harming themselves for a "common good".
  • About racial superiority and nationalism: The conquerors might view these peoples, their cultures and religions as inferior, and therefore completely disregard any moral values when treating with them. Since they are seen as inferior, they are seen as tools for the conquerors' motherland, so suppressing the local identity could be needed to destroy any sense of pride in the tribe, and avoid dissident views or revolution.
  • About the organization of society: Human sacrifices are unproductive for society, removing formed and fully capable contributors to the system. To strive for an ideal, maximum efficiency society (like Plato's utopia), all worker's lives have to be protected. This efficiency is above all other motives of society. From a religious point of view, it could be counter-argued that these sacrifices serve a purpose for society: God might be pleased and divinely contribute to society. This logic however, can not be defended with reason, and will only be seen as valid by the conquerors if they sympathize with the tribe's religious views.
  • About moral absolutism: Moral absolutism defends that there's certain principles that are sacred, and intrinsically good or bad. Killing someone unnaturally, even if it's yourself, could be seen as strictly immoral, under all cases. The immorality of "murder" doesn't necessarily have to be religious: life could be seen as sacred and precious. Life awards us the ability to have consciousness, reason and be self-aware. All individual human beings are inherently valuable, worthy and unique, and to willingly end such would be immoral.

It is however worth noting that in all these cases, the conquerors are imposing their own cultural values, morals and beliefs on the conquered tribe. Whether if these justifications are valid or not will depend on the personal beliefs of each individual. If these sacrifices are considered sacred by the tribe, none of these arguments will be considered valid as the sanctity of the ritual is a practice based on faith. Faith can not be argued against with reason, since it is always considered superior to all other forms of knowledge.

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    Nice! Welcome to PhilSE.
    – J D
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 18:42
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    Maybe this explains the problems humanity has had all along? "Faith is always considered superior to all other forms of knowledge." Huh. I don't consider that statement to be true, so the rug is already unraveling.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 11:31
  • @ScottRowe This idea is from Thomas Aquinas: God is the topmost power of the universe, but we are unable to reasonably prove his existence. This was a really complicated concept for theologists of the time. Thomas Aquinas solved this conflict by claiming God is true, but our brains do not have the ability to prove such. God, to circumvent this problem, grants us faith, which is knowledge given to us directly by God. Because it is from God, it is absolute and superior to any other knowledge. But just like all meta and theo-related philosophy, it is all speculation and hypothetical.
    – Aimarekin
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 0:54
  • Right. If you can't kick it, it is basically useless. So all this faith stuff doesn't decide anything if people can disagree. They must all be wrong, because no one disagrees about gravity, math, the un-desirableness of death, etc.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 17:09
  • @ScottRowe There's not much to argue: faith is the ultimate source of truth for believers, and completely irrelevant for non-believers. It certainly decides things... If you believe, that is.
    – Aimarekin
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 0:32

First answer

[Interesting juxtaposition - in one case human life had no value (comparatively) and in the other human life had value (a paradoxical one).

So the solution to this problem is simple - let's make a beeline to the conquered peoples whose customs and practices were altered by the conquerors and ask them without hemming and hawing "Are you happy that sati is abolished by law? Do you want to restore the practice of human sacrifice?"]

Second answer

It is immoral for one culture to impose one's values on another culture, period. However, moral values tend to be universal in scope i.e. there isn't that much variation in what people believe is good or bad (lying, cheating, murder are unethical in almost all cultures) than there is in their cuisine or clothing.

So when one people conquers another, morality is rarely part of the domination. In the case of sati and human sacrifice, the Hindus and Aztecs were fully aware of the immorality of these practices. The opposition to anti-sati laws and anti-human-sacrifice laws seemed more like a token gesture, in name only, just a formality that had to be completed as part of legal procedure.


Morally justified to whom? There is nothing absolute about justifying moral standards- it is a matter of personal or collective opinion. In the case you mention, the conquerors do not have to justify their actions to anyone.

  • Yes. In a collision of two equally invalid systems, we should...? It is like the line in the poem Dover Beach: "... while ignorant armies clash by night."
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 11:27

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