News Religion Science

A free society as a moral achievement

Spread the love

From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: accepting Templeton Prize:

A free society is a moral achievement. Without self-restraint, without the capacity to defer the gratification of instinct, and without the habits of heart and deed that we call virtues, we will eventually lose our freedom.

That is what Locke meant when he contrasted liberty, the freedom to do what we ought, with licence, the freedom to do what we want. It’s what Adam Smith signalled when, before he wrote The Wealth of Nations, he wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments. It’s what Washington meant when he said, “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” And Benjamin Franklin when he said, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” And Jefferson when he said, “A nation as a society forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society.”

At some point the West abandoned this belief. More.

Note: We like this guy as Templeton winner way better than that fellow back in 2011  who figured we might be living in a sim.

See also: Proponent of multiverses and “our universe as possible simulation” wins this year’s Templeton Prize

Follow UD News at Twitter!

4 Replies to “A free society as a moral achievement

  1. 1
    Robert Byers says:

    I don’t agree. Our free nations were based directly on moral and intellectual foundations of protestantism. indeed more Puritan then Anglican. A important point forgotten in real history of motives and actions of Anglo American civilization.
    How does non Christian mankind get free? In our world its only since WWii that they got democratic. At the end of a gun and observation of better nations themselves. china still is not free.
    I think non Christian society can be moral enough but on a curve its very hard to maintain.
    We are still living off a downhill cruise of protestant civilization.
    Take that away and I suspect there will be serious trouble. Just suspect.
    It was our moral achievement and not the foreigners who later came to live amongst us. Their moral accomplishment nations they all fled from.
    The Rabbi is just plain wrong.

  2. 2
    sean samis says:

    I agree that the Rabbi is mistaken in one part:

    At some point the West abandoned this belief.

    It is almost cliché to believe that contemporaries have lost some deep, essential belief that one’s revered ancestors held tightly to. You can read such laments among the ancients as well as current writers.

    Our ancestors did realize the essential nature of “virtues”; but not uniformly. The very fact Locke and other writers took pains to distinguish liberty from license is that they knew that, even in their times these two were prone to confusion.

    I suspect that, at least in our times, conservatives think we’ve become licentious because our notions of what constitutes a vice or a virtue have changed. Considering that our Revered Ancestors did not see slavery as a vice worthy of eradication, nor the oppression of women or religious dissenters or the poor, their standards are hardly commanding.

    It remains a marvel to me that even the most extreme conservative understands the inevitability of technological change, and yet the idea of cultural change just blows their collective minds. Life is change. To oppose change is to oppose life itself.

    Yes, not all cultural change is for the better; but maybe it would be better if conservatives participated in the changes instead of just dug their heels in at every turn.

    sean s.

  3. 3
    Robert Byers says:

    Sean samis
    Its about conclusions. Our puritan protestant ancestors didn’t agree with slavery, never oppressed women or the poor.
    They had a higher moral values.
    We are a kind civilization today due to these people
    its on the other conclusions that there are problems.
    Things are better today then the past because the puritan moral system won.
    Its just mopping up exercises now.

  4. 4
    sean samis says:

    Robert;

    Our “puritan ancestors” are but a TINY fraction of our collective ancestors; and their treatment of women was not very good.

    Massachusetts Bay Colony was a man’s world. Women did not participate in town meetings and were excluded from decision making in the church. Puritan ministers furthered male supremacy in their writings and sermons. They preached that the soul had two parts, the immortal masculine half, and the mortal feminine half.

    Women and children were treated harshly in the Puritan commonwealth. Women were viewed as instruments of Satan. Children were regarded as the property of their parents. If any child was disobedient to his parents, any magistrate could punish him with a maximum of ten lashes for each offense.

    womenhistoryblog.com/2007/10/puritan-women.html

    The rest of your comment goes down-hill from there.

    sean s.

Leave a Reply