Thursday, 9 November 2006

Anachronism in the Circumstantial Sense

There are two senses in which a thing may be said to be anachronistic: firstly, in the historiographic sense, in which a thing is not set in its correct historical time, as contained, for instance, in the view that Sir Isaac Newton was a member of the Automobile Association; and secondly, in the circumstantial sense, in which a thing does not fit in well with a state of affairs, or is found to be almost useless therein, as contained, for instance, in the view that aristocracy does not fit in well with our modern ideas of social justice, or in the view that it is almost useless to bring a sword into battle against a jet-fighter.
.....The fact that a thing does not fit in well with a state of affairs or is almost useless therein, however, does not necessarily speak ill of that thing or well of that state, except as a practical concern; for that state can be determined by all manner of human choices, right or wrong. It is even possible that a state of affairs could obtain in which moral scruple itself is anachronistic, being that it does not fit in with, or is almost useless under, a technical and rationalised order that sees it as a bar to progress. We have even caught a glimpse of this in some of the political movements of the twentieth century, wherein moral scruple was typically dismissed as an anachronistic expression of “bourgeois morality” — a “lower stage” of social progress. Despite this, some still feel it is sufficient argument against the goodness of a thing to say that it does not fit in well with the present state of affairs, when really they ought to be judging the state just as much as the thing that is out of place in it. This, I suppose, is the triumph of pragmatism over moral principle.

1 comment:

Muslihoon said...


This reminds me how some values have remained the same but the world has changed, and now people say those values are bad. Too few are asking: could it be the world that has gone bad and needs change?

This is certainly something to which we need to pay close attention.