About a third of the last testaments of Prague citizens from 1517 to 1544 referred to testators’ ethical beliefs. As their European neighbors, Praguers valued a pragmatic, life-sustaining, household oriented system of ethics consisting of orderliness, diligence, cooperation and domestic solidarity. They made no claim to rest their ethics on transcendental or universal values. The citizens’ notions of good and evil sprang from their wishes and desires andtheir anxieties and fears. While these social values emerge out of the intimacy of the home, the official practice of reading the last testaments in public effectively encouraged people to intensify their rhetoric in communications with other residents about values and behavior. Understanding a last will as part of a community’s conversation shows it to be a means for people to participate in the making of city policy.
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