Morality. What is it?
I think I have asked this question many times before – if not in public then at least to myself. Apparently I have still not come to any reasonable conclusion.
Ethics. What’s that all about? Are these personal things or universal necessities for the well being of humans (or animals – I haven’t quite sorted that one in my mind either. Maybe I should just say “living things”)
How can we behave in a moral or ethical manner when some of us – like me – can’t define what either of the words mean? Many questions but very few answers. Perhaps this is the nature of the issue.
With the advancement of technology (and presumably also then the advancement of the human brain) moral situations come upon us faster than we can even create the questions, much less find the answers..
So what is the difference between the two, if any, and does it matter ? Do we naturally understand how to reason about morals and arrive at ethical decisions? Do our values have any effect on our ethical decisions and moral standards?
Some people believe that humans hold a special place in creation, and morality can be summed up in one ultimate “law” of reason – that which all duties and obligations derive from. Kant stated that an imperative such as this is when a certain action, or inaction, is necessary, but in general to basic human life. When we are hungry, we need to eat, when we are thirsty we drink.
But another imperative is that there are no real conditions to it. An act where by the nature of this act asserts authority in any circumstance. An end in itself.
Where you can “will that it become a universal law”. Kant believed that this “law” could never be better or stronger than one that says for example, murder is wrong because it is not good for the greatest number of people. This of course is not relevant to those who are only concerned with maximising benefits only for themselves.
So where is this leading, if anywhere?
Only that my personal morals seem to get eroded every day. Not by me- well not intentionally. Or maybe it is by me – unintentionally. There comes a point when the struggle to keep with your own true beliefs (or what you thought were your beliefs) becomes too much of an effort so why not just go along with the untrustworthy, the users in life who appear to benefit and profit from their actions.
Mid life crisis? Too old for that. Cynicism gone too far? Possibly. Total mental break down ? Naaah – some might like that too much !
Just me being me and afraid of losing what I am. Will I let it happen ? I doubt it.
Reblogged from my blog http://wwwrite-place.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/morality.html
Morality and Ethics
Morality is the intent to achieve good, and to achieve it for others as well as for ourselves. Ethics is the pursuit of the best rules, those that will most likely achieve the best possible results for everyone.
To see the distinction, consider the Jewish family of Anne Frank hiding in the attic during Nazi occupation. The soldiers knock on the door and ask if there are any Jews. It would be unethical to lie, but it would be immoral not to.
We call something “good” if it meets a real need we have as an individual, a society, or a species. A “moral good” is actually good for us and benefits us in some way. A “moral harm” unnecessarily damages us or diminishes our rights in some way.
Moral judgment considers the evidence of probable benefits and harms to decide a course of action. This judgment is objective to the degree that the harms and benefits are easily observed and compared. But the ultimate consequences of a decision are not always known. Two good and honest individuals may differ as to what course of action will produce the best result. A democratic decision can be made to determine a working course of action, which can be further evaluated based on subsequent experience.
Ethics are about rule systems. Rules include customs, manners, principles, ethics, rights and law. When one speaks of “morals” or “moral codes” one is usually speaking of ethics. But morality is not the rule, but rather the reason for the rule, which is to achieve good.
Throughout history, rules have changed as our moral judgment evolved. Slavery was once permitted, but later outlawed. The equal rights of women to vote was established. The right to equal treatment without regard to races, gender, or religion was established.
Different cultures may have different rules. But all rules move slowly toward the same goal, to achieve the best possible good for everyone. And, to the degree that moral judgment is based in objective evidence, all variations are moving toward a common, ideal set of rules and rights.
In Matthew 22:35-40, Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest principle?”, and Jesus said the first principle is to love God and the second principle is to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
A Humanist translation would be to love good, and to love good for others as you love it for yourself.
But Jesus said one more thing, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” In other words, this is the source, the rationale, the reason, the “Why?” behind every rule and every right. It is the criteria by which all other principles, ethics, and rules are to be judged.
Thanks for your detailed comments on my question, which was in fact hypothetical, but has nevertheless provided me with great insight into your thoughts. I have looked at a few posts on your own blog and find them very interesting, so will find time to read more and hopefully comment/discuss.