Empathy and Morality
The morality of humans has grown through the centuries, apparently for the better (or so it seems to me, and i don't have any way of proving it, since ethics lacks a strictly logical foundation). What led to this change from a society in which slavery was acceptible to a modern day society in which people are fighting for animal rights? The explanation that comes to my mind is: an increase in empathy. The growth of morality is a result of the increased sense of empathy among people, an empathy which springs from knowledge and awareness, which stimulates a sense of association. Empathy is the ability to understand what another person is going through, what he is feeling and thinking. It is as Heinz Kohut defined it: "the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person.”
When slavery was acceptable, the aristocrats didn't think of the slaves as they thought of themselves; they never mentally placed themselves in the position of slaves, and when they started to do so, they realized that slaves were human too, like them; they began to empathize, and when a sufficient number of people gained this awareness and began to empathize, slavery became unacceptable and inhuman. Similarly, racism. White people thought of black people as someone different, and it was only when they learned to empathize, to realize that they were people like them, that racism began to decline. This also explains the rise of feminism: men had been treating women as 'the other', and when they became to empathize, they realized that women should have rights equal to men. And now, these days, people are becoming empathetic to animals, mentally projecting themselves in their place, and hence fighting for their rights. In today's world of so-called 'Clash of Civilizations', empathy is of crucial value; we need it to understand that we are all humans, we need it to avoid another holocaust from happening.
Empathy, that is the key to morality, to being good. Inculcating a sense of duty in people is not enough to make them good. A sense of duty as such is like an empty shell; that shell should be filled up by empathy... the world would be a much better place if we can learn to do that.