Bartolome de Las Casas and Moral Relativism

15th century Spanish Dominican friar, probability theorist and legal scholar Bartolome de Las Casas argued that the Spanish conquest of the New World was illegal, because Mexico belonged to the native Americans.  Sometimes it seems idle to blame people from other historical epochs for having the views they have because they lived in different cultures than do we.  Father Bartolome seems to provide a counter example — his culture was pro-colonialism and he realized it was wrong, aruing for example that if Muslims decided to conquer Mexico on the theory that it was okay because the Aztecs were not Muslim it would be wrong, so it is wrong for Christians to do so.  The Casas Case suggests that we have the ability to know what´s wrong and just miss it because we are corrupted by money or afraid.  I don´t know much about him and whether or not he did at personal risk to his life, but he is a hero.


6 thoughts on “Bartolome de Las Casas and Moral Relativism

  1. We could use more people like him today. This reminds me of a conversation I had recently, and have had all too often, in which someone was defending certain people’s racism and homophobia on account of their age.

  2. Mikey says:

    Age is a good defence for racism. It’s really hard to change your mind about anything when you’re old. It’s even harder to change into the sort of person who changes their minds when you’re old. Also the fact that everyone else is doing it is a good reason to do something. It doesn’t always make it right, but in the cases where it’s wrong, it’s a good defence. George Washington owned a slave farm and that was in those days. If Obama tried to pull a stunt like that there’s no way he’d make it into the top 3 presidents list. But with Washington you can say “Ah, it’s fine, it was in the old days, people did stuff like that then.”

    If you don’t say that then what are they going to say about us in the future? That we were monsters for owning pets? For not giving children suffrage? For owning property at all? Who knows?

    • I think they may well consider us monsters for the global income disparity — people eating at restaurants while others die of starvation just cause they live a few hundred miles away.

      • Mikey says:

        Yes, and various other things that we’re starting to be aware of. But in a time when racism is only just starting to be considered a bad thing, I think it’s fair to be lenient to old people who were brought up in a time when racism wasn’t that bad. Particularly in America, which has a bit of a schizophrenic attitude to group identity – both promoting patriotism as the highest virtue and vilifying racism as the lowest evil. Perhaps they spent all their virtuous energy on establishing equality for women or something.

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