Saturday, January 15, 2011


What is morality? Are there any objective morals that every human being must follow? Is there a logical or scientific source for an unquestionably factual code of ethics? These are classic topics of debate and discussion, and the answer as usual seems to remain elusive to the thinking mind. Perhaps the most frequently asked question is whether or not someone can be moral without having any religious beliefs. As is the case with many debated topics, the definitions of each of the terms can play a fundamental role in the outcome of the argument. Although clearly defining morality is crucial, some simple definitions can lead to deceptively simplified and misleading results. It is very important to make sure that the definition doesn't distort the common notion of the word.

Let's first start by supplying a definition, and then see if it can fit the context of the common uses of the actual word. In order to answer questions of morality, let's start by defining morality simply as "the following of rules." A moral person is therefore one that follows rules, and morals are the rules that are followed. Conversely, an immoral person is one that does not follow any rules. The substitution of this word seems at first glance to fit pretty accurately into the widely accepted usage of the concept of morality. In the absence of any counter example it seems proper to stick with this definition and use this simplified form of the concept to tackle some of the more problematic issues involving its usage.

Now let's try to answer some of the questions that are commonly discussed regarding the nature of morality. First of all, what is morality? This question is answered through the definition: Morality is the following of rules. But this definition doesn't qualify the kind of rules, and therefore, the following of any rules must be categorized together with morality. There would therefore be no difference between someone who makes it his or her job to give car rides to other people and a person that goes out of his or her way to find a hitch every morning. Each person is equally moral because each is following self described rules. Let’s look at another question. Are there any objective morals that every human being must follow? In other words, do humans have to follow certain rules? Well technically humans have to perform certain life functions if they wish to stay alive. But nothing prevents people from doing what they want. Humans don't have any more rules than common insects. Now, is there a logical or scientific source for an unquestionably factual code of ethics? Well it is possible to say that the laws of nature give humans certain rules. But these rules can't be broken, and therefore, to follow these laws doesn't involve any voluntary action. Therefore, it seems that there are no scientific morals in the sense that humans have rules that they should intentionally place upon themselves. It can be said that normal humans should follow certain behavior patterns, but like any animal, there is nothing inherently wrong with deviating from the norms of the species. Finally, let’s analyze the most highly debated topic, and see what light this definition game can shed on the subject. Is it possible to have morality without religion? Although this question seemed difficult, the new definition makes it look like a joke. Of course it's possible to follow rules even if one is not religious. Just make rules and follow them. A person may do nothing more than decide to always buy gas from the same gas station and his actions have fallen into the category of moral practices.

After answering these questions, although not running into any logical fallacy, the definition seems to have strayed far from the common usage of the concept of morality. People think of a moral person as one that does what's right. Things like murder are considered immoral, and things like charity are considered moral. Morality seems to be more connected with certain universal principles of right and wrong. Furthermore, right and wrong seem to be intimately connected with a transcendental or mysterious purpose of existence. The concept of morality begins to sound very much like religion. The definition introduced doesn't seem to have anything to do with these commonly accepted morality topics.

Although a clear definition of morality may remain elusive, people seem to have an ability of sensing morality, and certain things are considered right and others are considered wrong. But there doesn't seem to be any logical justification for any of these practices, and scientific inquiry alone seems to leave us with few answers in these matters. It would therefore seem that morality is only achieved through religious beliefs.

Some scientists and philosophers have attempted to create logical rules and reasons behind certain morals. Based on these arguments, morality can be subject to scientific inquiry and certain actions can be deemed scientifically or logically wrong. The claim is that these rules are not connected with any purpose or religion, yet they are still binding on every individual. Morality can be claimed as a kind of social contract that is the best path for a human to take in order to derive the most pleasure from life. It can be argued that people should behave morally as a kind of insurance policy against adverse social interactions with other individuals. It can also be argued that morals are a promotion of the collective good or pleasure of human beings or any conscious being. Acting morally would be the right thing to do inasmuch as it causes more happiness in the world. However, these definitions of morality require their own postulates or world view, and most of them don't fit the common notion of morality either. The social contract approach has its problems. Naturally a weak person would want everyone to agree not to murder. But a powerful individual may not wish to take on the insurance that the social contract has to offer. Additionally, some people may not value life, and they may not care if they die. Regarding the common good of humanity, why should someone want to spread goodness? It may seem nice, but there is no logical reason for someone to give up pleasure in order to share it with others. Both of these approaches to morality have their own world views that are not necessarily inherently logical or shared by everyone.

Perhaps the most fundamental flaw in any of these definitions of morality is the lack of the status symbol attributed to the moral individual. A moral person doesn't just follow certain rules in the same way that people chose different flavors of ice cream. A moral person should be given a higher status than an immoral one. A certain level of holiness or awe should be attributed to one that does good things for goods sake. But this concept is quite foreign to the logical mind as well. Although certain actions may be optimal or smart, nothing can make one person truly better than another person. Both will remain human no matter what they decide to do or what they happen to accomplish. With the above definitions of morality, neither a murderer nor a philanthropist can be considered a better person. Does a person fall to a sub-human status if he or she refuses to buy health insurance? Why should someone fall to a lower status just because he or she does not wish to engage in a social contract? Additionally, why should someone achieve a higher status just because he decides not to murder for the selfish reason of not wanting to be hurt by others? Although admittedly completely illogical, a moral person must somehow surpass an immoral person in what must be a spiritual or religious plain. This is the only way to give the common notion of morality the proper definition that it deserves.

It seems quite clear that the commonly accepted notion of morality is intimately connected with one's religion or world view. The common experience of morals escapes the realm of logical reasoning or scientific enquiry. Although it is possible to give definitions to suit one's arguments, these definitions may not necessarily be satisfactory in their description of common experience.

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