Now here's a straightforward question. What is morality? Is it a personal code of conduct? Is it in some sense absolute? I would be very interested in understanding where the various participants in this forum are coming from on this one, as I hope it will help me to understand how people reach the conclusions they do.

So I'll start by answering my own question, from my point of view. I take as an axiom the standpoint that is it wrong to impose one's will upon another without their consent. Violation of this axiom I consider "harm". It comes, of course, from the selfish standpoint that I don't want anyone imposing their will upon me, against my will, and from there I extrapolate that to others. It is, in a way, a more general version of the christian ethic "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you".

Of course this ideal is never achievable in practice. If you drive a car then you are polluting the atmosphere and arguably harming others against their will. But on the other hand, to ban cars would be a greater imposition.

Vegetarians extend the concept of "others" to include a subset of the animal kingdom. The boundary of who are the "others" we need to encompass is a vague one. I draw the line at the level of sentient intelligences, of which humans are the only current example on this planet.

I have begun to realize, however, that it is possible that others in this forum may have a different view - that morality is somehow "absolute", that there is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. I am unclear about a great many aspects of this viewpoint.

For example - let's take an extreme example. It is usually considered wrong to kill people. If it's called murder, you can certainly expect a prison sentence, at the very least. But if it's called war, they give you medals for it. Euthenasia is generally (though not universally) regarded as an act of compassion. Some juristictions endorse capital punishment. If even this seemingly unarguable wrong is so hazy, how can we be sure about the smaller questions?

Some would argue (I think) that majority opinion should dictate what is absolute morality. Majority opinion may be the fairest way to run a democracy (or at least, I can't think of a better one), but I don't believe it may dictate absolute right and wrong. Here's what I said about that in another thread:
If out of ten people in a room, nine of them agree to murder the other, is that moral? It's a majority opinion, after all. Perhaps the problem here is that my sample isn't big enough. What about a whole building - would that be better? What about a whole village? A whole town? A whole country? Not so long ago, a majority of Americans believed that slaughtering American Indians was okay, and that abducting people from Africa and enslaving them was okay. Was that a sufficiently large majority to make it moral? A few years before that, majority opinion in Europe was that nine million women should be burnt at the stake. Was that moral? Or do you require your sample to be the whole of humanity, in toto. Of course, that would include muslims, the Chinese, gay people, Australian aboriginies, and so on. Has there ever been an opinion poll that inclusive? I certainly wouldn't be able to ask the Chinese anything, because I don't speak Chinese. The opinions of this particular population are an unknown to me. Of course, some Chinese folk can speak English, but that subset is not a random cross-section, and is therefore statistically biased.


In order to keep this thread tightly focused, please be aware that I am not asking for a "list of rules" - what is right and what is wrong. I am interested only in the nature of morality itself. Where does it come from, and how do you choose yours? I am interested in the reasoning behind your decisions, in how you come to your conclusions.

I am aware that this topic is open-ended. It can never have a real conclusion because it is unlikely we will all be able to agree. However, my goal here is not to forge a universal agreement, but simply to understand whence moral judgements arise. So I guess we can call this thread closed when "enough" viewpoints have been posed (or if it dies through apathy).

Okay, fire away. Please tell me. I am keen to learn.
Rommie
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Ah... an oldie but goodie. Emotion: smile In short, I agree with your evaluation. Here's how I came to the conclusion myself.

First I think we need to define what kind of absolute right and wrong we are talking about here. This means we must have an absolute source of authority.

If we choose God(s) as a source of authority, game over. There's your source. Unfortunately, humans have a nasty habit of disagreeing when God(s) is/are the standard. That's a whole other can of worms. If we say we need ultimate authority, arguing over whose non-verifiable God(s) has authority (or even exists) will get us nowhere.

There is no morality in Nature. The conditions on the surface of Venus are 400C and 90 atmospheres of pressure. Amazonian pitcher plants consume mice and insects as a source of nutrients. The sun-earth-moon system has five LaGrange points. There is nothing moral or amoral about natural systems that are not self-aware. They simply are. Even their effect on self-aware systems is completely indifferent. If I'm killed by a tiger or accidentally fall into molten lava, the morality of those actions is irrelevant. We can't turn to nature for our moral authority. Only when self-aware systems act on (or indirectly influence) other self-aware systems can there be a conflict of moral interest.

So we're left with the only (and probably least satisfying) option. The conscious being asking the question is the ultimate source of authority and must define his or her own morality. Unless we have some solipsists in the audience, I hope we can agree that we are all conscious beings. If we want our idea of self-authority to extend to all self-aware beings, everyone's authority over themselves must be simultaneously satisfied. The only way this can be achieved is if all people regard the moral systems of others as inviolable as their own. Bootstrapped together, this is simply "The Golden Rule".

Where we get into trouble is when someone breaks the rule. Do we tolerate breaking the rule because interference would also break the rule?
Rommie and Chameleon, your posts are very impressive!!

Unfortunalely I can not say that I really understand them, so in an effort to help answer your question, and for the benefit of any other readers who may also not have understood your postings I consulted the 'Hyperdictionary" (hyperdictonary.com) in order to further explore the meaning of this most wonderful word.

Here is what I found;

mor•al•ity /mrælti/ noun
1 principles concerning right and wrong or good and bad behaviour: matters of public / private morality
2 the degree to which something is right or wrong, good or bad, etc. according to moral principles
3 a system of moral principles followed by a particular group of people

I also checked its antonym, as antonyms sometimes help to clarify meanings.

\Im`***"***\, n.; pl. {Immoralities}. [Cf. F.
immoralit['e].]
1. The state or quality of being immoral; vice.
2. An immoral act or practice.

It may be worth noting that morality can fall into different categories, public, private and group.
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It would seem that we (the more than 6 billion of inhabitants of the Earth) have an inner voice that says to us what is good and what is bad, and that we could dream that we agree in the basics, being Morality the same for all.

What a dream Emotion: smile

Even if agreeing, we don't follow the inner voice guidelines, and, as we don't agree anyway, for me, Morality is just a word. Quite useless word, too overused, too frequently utilised to tyrannize others, taken as "own" for streams of differnt kind of principles/convictions ready to impose their "morals" forcing, denigrating or condemning those who don't agree.

From another perspective:
-after leaving this world, don't leave behind any person damaged by our words or our actions.
Thanks for the complement, Conus, but I think I may have been misunderstood. What I really want to know is this:

How may we know what is right and what is wrong? In particular, how do you derive your knowledge/belief of what is right and what is wrong? That's really all I'm asking.

Rommie
I think this topic is absolutely fascinating. On the one hand, it makes you think of your own prejudices and mindset. Haven't you ever experienced different types of behaviour and acted accordingly. Let me give you a very picturesque example. A few years ago I bought a wonderful bikini which I often wore in my country and it was perfectly ok. When I went to the States I took it with me and you wouldn't believe it, it caught everybody's attention. To be honest, at the very beginning I thought it was because it was styled differently. But no, it wasn't actually that because I was getting those kind of weird looks from the opposite sex so I gathered that there was something wrong with it, I sensed it in the atmosphere. Feeling rather uncomfortable, I decided to get into the water, and from there, my perspective changed radically. I could see what was wrong with it, it was too tiny for the standards. Most women were wearing bikinis up to their necks, the speedo kind of thing if you know what I mean. To tell you the truth, I darted out of the water to reach my towel, I had the feeling I was walking naked before everybody's eyes. Never had I towel made me feel so safe!
On the other hand, I felt a bit annoyed with myself because I had worn that bikini lots of times I still liked it, actually it was my favourite. There was nothing wrong with it, it was the puritanical attitude of those on the beach. To cut a long story short , the following day I got myself a suffocating speedo one.

Did I, from your point of view, act correctly?
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Thanks Rommie.
I once read that anything that improves the world is morally right. Anything that weakens the world is morally wrong. How do we tell? Well that calls for wisdom.
I know this is maybe too simplistic. I must give this more thought.
Cheers Emotion: smile
Hi Maj, it was good example to reflect on differences in morality

-In Spain the bikini was ok. You think that wearing that bikini is perfectly correct

-In that part of States it was too tiny. You think they are puritanical, they think they are right and that you were wrong

-Imagine what would be the situation in Saudi Arabia? You would probably brought directly to prison, forced to pay a fine and whipped. (If some Saudi in the forum, s/he could say if this is accurate as I haven't verify by myself, this is from my readings and talks to Saudi women, but I'm afraid it is true)

For some the morality is not related to the size of the clothes, for some it is related but they don't interfere and for some it is so dramatically related that whipping becomes a moral act.

How to encompass all of this?
Hi Conus.

Please feel free to consider me so completely stupid that I can't even see the obvious. This is essentially true - I'm being sincere here. There would appear to be aspects of your reasoning which, to you, are so obvious that they don't even need to be stated, since, in your view, everyone surely knows without having to be told. But please believe me when I tell you that, not only are they not obvious to me, they baffle and perplex me completely, and I have absolutely no idea how, in your mind, B follows from A. I realise now that you are following a chain of logic with I simply do not see. This is why I am asking for your help in my trying to understand.

Let me give you a specific example. You stated in another thread that "I thought [majority opinion] was relevant to topics that address morality".

My ignorance gets in the way of my understanding here, for two reasons. (1) I don't know how to decide whether or not a topic addresses morality, and (2) I still don't understand why you believe that majority opinion is relevant to topics that address morality. I'm not being sarcastic - I really, really don't know.

Please help me to understand. Why, in your view, is majority opinion relevant to "topics that address morality" (but not to topics that don't address morality)? I don't understand, and I really want to understand.

Thank you
Rommie
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