The Measure of Civilizations

Academic Questions 16 (1):16-22 (2002)
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Is it possible to compare civilizations one with another? Is it possible, in other words, to construct some neutral and objective framework in terms of which we could establish in what respects one civilization might deserve to be ranked more highly than its competitors? Morality will surely provide one axis of such a framework (and we note in passing that believers in Islam might quite reasonably claim that their fellow-believers are characteristically more moral than are many in the West). Criteria such as material well-being will need to play a role, too, as also will happiness or pleasure (and again we note that it is not clear a priori that there is more happiness in the West than there is in other civilizations). But even happiness (pace some proponents of the utilitarian philosophy) comes in different types, and to count in the civilization stakes the happiness involved would presumably need to be of the right kind. We explore what this might mean in terms of the idea of a self-chosen life plan.
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