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The Ethical Dimension – An Introduction — September 2, 2020

The Ethical Dimension – An Introduction

By Daniel, Junior Council

In confronting our past selves and looking into our past, we often note that some of our doings are seen today as immensely unjustifiable and wrong. But just as we regard them as gravely immoral today, people of the time justified these actions back then for numerous different reasons, most of them being thought of as outdated and unethical nowadays.

Some of Canada’s past wrongdoings include the internment of Japanese-Canadian civilians during the Second World War, or the horror of residential schools, the system meant to wipe out culture in a ruthlessly efficient way. Only in the late 20th century did a large majority of us realize that these actions were wrong, as part of our changing outlook on diversity. The right thing to do, we decided, was to make amends to survivors or descendants of those who had suffered in these horrible events, be it through compensations or official apologies. But what should we do in order to avoid making the same mistakes? What do we have to do now? 

This is called the Ethical Dimension, one of the most in-depth historical thinking axioms we consult in our reflections on history. We often judge historical events through a more fact-based lens, such as by considering the events that occurred, the numbers of people involved, and the places where the events took place. But it is not quite as often when we look at the effects of the events on the people who were involved, either involuntarily or voluntarily. We see conflicts like the War of 1812 and judge them based on the impacts they had on faceless entities like nations and governments. But rarely do we take a closer look at the psychological impacts the event had on the people involved, or how it changed a population’s thinking, or even how it changed our cultures. The Ethical Dimension means investigating the rationale behind events, how it has changed our cultures, and, if we now regard the rationale as in the wrong, how to avoid making the same mistakes. When combined with other historical concepts it provides one with a further understanding of a past matter, and hopefully in doing so we can make a change to our country and perhaps the world.