between those that are good (or right) and bad (or wrong). A moral code is a system of morality (for example, according to a particular philosophy
, etc.) and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code. The adjective
moral is synonymous with "good" or "right." Immorality is the active opposition to morality (i.e.
MORALITY: A traditional code of decency that went out the window about the same time as belief in eternal damnation.
Morality is character and conduct such as is required by the circle or community in which the man's life happens to be placed. It shows how much good men require of us.
Morality's not practical. Morality's a gesture. A complicated gesture learnt from books.
All systems of morality are fine. The gospel alone has exhibited a complete assemblage of the principles of morality, divested of all absurdity. It is not composed, like your creed, of a few common-place sentences put into bad verse. Do you wish to see that which is really sublime? Repeat the Lord's Prayer.
Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it.
There are two principles of established acceptance in morals; first, that self-interest is the mainspring of all of our actions, and secondly, that utility is the test of their value.
The system of morality which Socrates made it the business of his life to teach was raised upon the firm basis of religion. The first principles of virtuous conduct which are common to all mankind are, according to this excellent moralist, laws of God; and the conclusive argument by which he supports this opinion is, that no man departs from these principles with impunity.
Socrates taught that true felicity is not to be derived from external possessions, but from wisdom, which consists in the knowledge and practice of virtue; that the cultivation of virtuous manners is necessarily attended with pleasure as well as profit; that the honest man alone is happy; and that it is absurd to attempt to separate things which are in nature so closely united as virtue and interest.
It is the dutiful disposition of each person to spread morality outside of himself to the best of his ability and knowledge, i.e., to see to it that everyone has the same disposition he has ... It follows from this that the overall end of the moral community as a whole is to produce unanimity concerning matters of morality.
Morality rests upon a sense of obligation; and obligation has no meaning except as implying a Divine command, without which it would cease to be.
between those that are good (or right) and bad (or wrong). A moral code is a system of morality (for example, according to a particular philosophy
, etc.) and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code. The adjective
moral is synonymous with "good" or "right." Immorality is the active opposition to morality (i.e. good or right), while amorality is variously defined as an unawareness of, indifference toward, or disbelief in any set of moral standards or principles.
Morality and EthicsEthics (also known as moral philosophy) is that branch of philosophy
which addresses questions about morality. The word 'ethics' is "commonly used interchangeably with 'morality' ... and sometimes it is used more narrowly to mean the moral principles of a particular tradition, group, or individual." Likewise, certain types of ethical theories, especially deontological ethics
, sometimes distinguish between 'ethics' and 'morals': "Although the morality of people and their ethics amounts to the same thing, there is a usage that restricts morality to systems such as that of Kant, based on notions such as duty, obligation, and principles
of conduct, reserving ethics for the more Aristotelian approach to practical reasoning, based on the notion of a virtue, and generally avoiding the separation of 'moral' considerations from other practical considerations."
Descriptive and Normative
- In its descriptive sense, "morality" refers to personal or cultural valuesValue (personal and cultural)A personal or cultural value is an absolute or relative ethical value, the assumption of which can be the basis for ethical action. A value system is a set of consistent values and measures. A principle value is a foundation upon which other values and measures of integrity are based...
, codes of conductCode of ConductA code of conduct is a set of rules outlining the responsibilities of or proper practices for an individual, party or organization. Related concepts include ethical codes and honor codes....
or social moresMoresMores, in sociology, are any given society's particular norms, virtues, or values. The word mores is a plurale tantum term borrowed from Latin, which has been used in the English language since the 1890s....
. It does not connote objective claims of right or wrong, but only refers to that which is considered right or wrong. Descriptive ethicsDescriptive ethicsDescriptive ethics, also known as comparative ethics, is the study of people's beliefs about morality. It contrasts with prescriptive or normative ethics, which is the study of ethical theories that prescribe how people ought to act, and with meta-ethics, which is the study of what ethical terms...
is the branch of philosophy which studies morality in this sense.
- In its normativeNormativeNormative has specialized contextual meanings in several academic disciplines. Generically, it means relating to an ideal standard or model. In practice, it has strong connotations of relating to a typical standard or model ....
sense, "morality" refers to whatever (if anything) is actually right or wrong, which may be independent of the values or mores held by any particular peoples or cultures. Normative ethicsNormative ethicsNormative ethics is the study of ethical action. It is the branch of philosophical ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking...
is the branch of philosophy which studies morality in this sense.
Realism and anti-realismPhilosophical theories on the nature and origins of morality (that is, theories of meta-ethics
) are broadly divided into two classes:
- Moral realismMoral realismMoral realism is the meta-ethical view which claims that:# Ethical sentences express propositions.# Some such propositions are true.# Those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of subjective opinion....
is the class of theories which hold that there are true moral statements that report objective moral facts. For example, while they might concede that forces of social conformity significantly shape individuals' "moral" decisions, they deny that those cultural normsNorm (sociology)Social norms are the accepted behaviors within a society or group. This sociological and social psychological term has been defined as "the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. These rules may be explicit or implicit...
and customsConvention (norm)A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted standards, norms, social norms or criteria, often taking the form of a custom....
define morally right behavior. This may be the philosophical view propounded by ethical naturalistsEthical naturalismEthical naturalism is the meta-ethical view which claims that:# Ethical sentences express propositions.# Some such propositions are true....
, however not all moral realists accept that position (e.g. ethical non-naturalistsEthical non-naturalismEthical non-naturalism is the meta-ethical view which claims that:# Ethical sentences express propositions.# Some such propositions are true.# Those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of human opinion....
- Moral anti-realismAnti-realismIn analytic philosophy, the term anti-realism is used to describe any position involving either the denial of an objective reality of entities of a certain type or the denial that verification-transcendent statements about a type of entity are either true or false...
, on the other hand, holds that moral statements either fail or do not even attempt to report objective moral facts. Instead, they hold that moral claims are derived either from an unsupported belief that there are objective moral facts (error theory, a form of moral nihilismMoral nihilismMoral nihilism is the meta-ethical view that nothing is moral or immoral. For example, a moral nihilist would say that killing someone, for whatever reason, is neither inherently right nor inherently wrong...
); the speakers' sentiments (emotivismEmotivismEmotivism is a meta-ethical view that claims that ethical sentences do not express propositions but emotional attitudes. Influenced by the growth of analytic philosophy and logical positivism in the 20th century, the theory was stated vividly by A. J. Ayer in his 1936 book Language, Truth and...
, a form of moral relativismMoral relativismMoral relativism may be any of several descriptive, meta-ethical, or normative positions. Each of them is concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures:...
); or any one of the normsNorm (sociology)Social norms are the accepted behaviors within a society or group. This sociological and social psychological term has been defined as "the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. These rules may be explicit or implicit...
prevalent in society (ethical subjectivismEthical subjectivismEthical subjectivism is the meta-ethical view which claims that:# Ethical sentences express propositions.# Some such propositions are true.# Those propositions are about the attitudes of people.This makes ethical subjectivism a form of cognitivism...
, another form of moral relativism).
Theories which claim that morality is derived from reasoning about implied imperatives (universal prescriptivism
), the edicts of a god (divine command theory
), or the hypothetical decrees of a perfectly rational being (ideal observer theory
), are considered anti-realist in the robust sense used here, but are considered realist in the sense synonymous with moral universalism
Tribal and territorialCelia Green
made a distinction between tribal and territorial morality. She characterizes the latter as predominantly negative and proscriptive: it defines a person’s territory, including his or her property and dependents, which is not to be damaged or interfered with. Apart from these proscriptions, territorial morality is permissive, allowing the individual whatever behaviour does not interfere with the territory of another. By contrast, tribal morality is prescriptive, imposing the norms of the collective on the individual. These norms will be arbitrary, culturally dependent and ‘flexible’, whereas territorial morality aims at rules which are universal and absolute, such as Kant
’s ‘categorical imperative
’ and Geisler
's graded absolutism
. Green relates the development of territorial morality to the rise of the concept of private property, and the ascendancy of contract over status.
In-group and out-groupSome observers hold that individuals apply distinct sets of moral rules to people depending on their membership of an "in-group" (the individual and those they believe to be of the same culture or race) or an "out-group" (people not entitled to be treated according to the same rules). Some biologists, anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists
believe this in-group/out-group discrimination has evolved because it enhances group survival. Gary R. Johnson and V.S. Falger have argued that nationalism
are forms of this in-group/out-group boundary. Jonathan Haidt has noted that experimental observation indicates an in-group criterion provides one moral foundation substantially used by conservatives, but far less so by liberals
Comparing culturesPeterson and Seligman approach the anthropological view looking across cultures, geo-cultural areas and across millennia. They conclude that certain virtues have prevailed in all cultures they examined. The major virtues they identified include wisdom / knowledge; courage; humanity; justice; temperance; and transcendence. Each of these includes several divisions. For instance humanity includes love, kindness, and social intelligence.
, author of Did the Pedestrian Die?, tested members of different cultures with various moral dilemmas. One of these was whether the driver of a car would have his friend, a passenger riding in the car, lie in order to protect the driver from the consequences of driving too fast and hitting a pedestrian. Trompenaars found that different cultures had quite different expectations (from none to almost certain).
- See also: Evolution of moralityEvolution of moralityThe evolution of morality refers to the emergence of human moral behavior over the course of human evolution. Morality can be defined as a system of ideas about right and wrong conduct. In everyday life, morality is typically associated with human behavior and not much thought is given to the...
, Altruism, Evolutionary ethicsEvolutionary ethicsEvolutionary ethics could be either a form of descriptive ethics or normative ethics.Descriptive evolutionary ethics consists of biological approaches to ethics based on the role of evolution in shaping human psychology and behavior...
The development of modern morality is a process closely tied to the Sociocultural evolution
of different peoples of humanity. Some evolutionary biologists, particularly sociobiologists, believe that morality is a product of evolutionary forces acting at an individual level and also at the group level through group selection
(though to what degree this actually occurs is a controversial topic in evolutionary theory). Some sociobiologists contend that the set of behaviors that constitute morality evolved largely because they provided possible survival and/or reproductive benefits (i.e. increased evolutionary success). Humans consequently evolved "pro-social" emotions, such as feelings of empathy or guilt, in response to these moral behaviors.
In this respect, morality is not absolute, but relative and constitutes any set of behaviors that encourage human cooperation based on their ideology to get ideologic unity. Biologists contend that all social animals, from ants to elephants, have modified their behaviors, by restraining immediate selfishness in order to improve their evolutionary fitness. Human morality, though sophisticated and complex relative to other animals, is essentially a natural phenomenon that evolved to restrict excessive individualism that could undermine a group's cohesion and thereby reducing the individuals' fitness..
On this view, moral codes are ultimately founded on emotional instincts and intuitions that were selected for in the past because they aided survival and reproduction (inclusive fitness
). Examples: the maternal bond
is selected for because it improves the survival of offspring; the Westermarck effect, where close proximity during early years reduces mutual sexual attraction, underpins taboos against incest
because it decreases the likelihood of genetically risky behaviour such as inbreeding
The phenomenon of 'reciprocity
' in nature is seen by evolutionary biologists as one way to begin to understand human morality. Its function is typically to ensure a reliable supply of essential resources, especially for animals living in a habitat where food quantity or quality fluctuates unpredictably. For example, some vampire bat
s fail to feed on prey some nights while others manage to consume a surplus. Bats that did eat will then regurgitate part of their blood meal to save a conspecific
from starvation. Since these animals live in close-knit groups over many years, an individual can count on other group members to return the favor on nights when it goes hungry (Wilkinson, 1984)
Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce (2009) have argued that morality is a suite of behavioral capacities likely shared by all mammals living in complex social groups (e.g., wolves, coyotes, elephants, dolphins, rats, chimpanzees). They define morality as "a suite of interrelated other-regarding behaviors that cultivate and regulate complex interactions within social groups." This suite of behaviors includes empathy, reciprocity, altruism, cooperation, and a sense of fairness. In related work, it has been convincingly demonstrated that chimpanzees show empathy for each other in a wide variety of contexts. They also possess the ability to engage in deception, and a level of social 'politics' prototypical of our own tendencies for gossip
Christopher Boehm (1982) has hypothesized that the incremental development of moral complexity throughout hominid evolution was due to the increasing need to avoid disputes and injuries in moving to open savanna and developing stone weapons. Other theories are that increasing complexity was simply a correlate of increasing group size and brain size, and in particular the development of theory of mind
abilities. Richard Dawkins
in The God Delusion
suggested that our morality is a result of our biological evolutionary history and that the Moral Zeitgeist helps describe how morality evolves from biological and cultural origins and evolves with time within a culture.
Mirror-neuronsMirror neurons are neurons in the brain that fire when another person is observed doing a certain action. The neurons fire in imitation of the action being observed, causing the same muscles to act minutely in the observer as are acting grossly in the person actually performing the action. Research on mirror neuron
s, since their discovery in 1996, suggests that they may have a role to play not only in action understanding, but also in emotion sharing empathy
. Cognitive neuro-scientist Jean Decety
thinks that the ability to recognize and vicariously experience what another individual is undergoing was a key step forward in the evolution of social behavior, and ultimately, morality. The inability to feel empathy is one of the defining characteristics of psychopathy, and this would appear to lend support to Decety's view.
Neuroimaging and stimulationThe explicit making of moral right and wrong judgments coincides with activation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex
while intuitive reactions to situations containing implicit moral issues activates the temporoparietal junction
area. Stimulation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex by transcranial magnetic stimulation
has been shown to change moral judgments of human subjects.
PsychologyIn modern moral psychology
, morality is considered to change through personal development. A number of psychologists have produced theories on the development of morals, usually going through stages of different morals. Lawrence Kohlberg
, Jean Piaget
, and Elliot Turiel
have cognitive-developmental approaches to moral development
; to these theorists morality forms in a series of constructive stages or domains. Social psychologists
such as Martin Hoffman
and Jonathan Haidt
emphasize social and emotional development based on biology, such as empathy
. Moral identity theorists, such as William Damon
and Mordechai Nisan
, see moral commitment as arising from the development of a self-identity that is defined by moral purposes: this moral self-identity leads to a sense of responsibility to pursue such purposes. Of historical interest in psychology are the theories of psychoanalysts such as Sigmund Freud
, who believe that moral development is the product of aspects of the super-ego as guilt-shame avoidance.
Morality and politicsIf morality is the answer to the question 'how ought we to live' at the individual level, politics can be seen as addressing the same question at the social level. It is therefore unsurprising that evidence has been found of a relationship between attitudes in morality and politics. Jonathan Haidt
and Jesse Graham have studied the differences between liberals
and conservatives, in this regard. Haidt found that Americans who identified as liberals tended to value care and fairness higher than loyalty, respect and purity. Self-identified conservative Americans valued care and fairness less and the remaining three values more. Both groups gave care the highest over-all weighting, but conservatives valued fairness the lowest, whereas liberals valued purity the lowest. Haidt also hypothesizes that the origin of this division in the United States can be traced to geohistorical factors, with conservatism strongest in closely knit, ethnically homogenous communities, in contrast to port
-cities, where the cultural mix is greater, thus requiring more liberalism.
Group morality develops from shared concept
s and belief
s and is often codified to regulate behavior within a culture
or community. Various defined actions come to be called moral or immoral. Individuals who choose moral action are popularly held to possess "moral fiber", whereas those who indulge in immoral behavior may be labeled as socially degenerate. The continued existence of a group may depend on widespread conformity to codes of morality; an inability to adjust moral codes in response to new challenges is sometimes credited with the demise of a community (a positive example would be the function of Cistercian reform in reviving monasticism; a negative example would be the role of the Dowager Empress
in the subjugation of China to European interests). Within nationalist
movements, there has been some tendency to feel that a nation will not survive or prosper without acknowledging one common morality, regardless of its content.
Political Morality is also relevant to the behaviour internationally of national governments, and to the support they receive from their host population. Noam Chomsky
Morality and religionWithin the wide range of moral traditions, religious moral traditions co-exist with secular moral frameworks such as humanism
, and others. There are many types of religious morals. Modern monotheistic religions, such as Islam
, and to a certain degree others such as Sikhism
, define right and wrong by the laws and rules set forth by their respective gods and as interpreted by religious leaders within the respective faith. Polytheistic religious traditions tend to be less absolute. For example, within Buddhism
, the intention of the individual and the circumstances should be accounted for to determine if an action is right or wrong. A further disparity between the morals of religious traditions is pointed out by Barbara Stoler Miller
, who states that, in Hinduism, "practically, right and wrong are decided according to the categories of social rank, kinship, and stages of life. For modern Westerners, who have been raised on ideals of universality and egalitarianism, this relativity of values and obligations is the aspect of Hinduism most difficult to understand".
Religions provide different ways of dealing with moral dilemmas. For example, there is no absolute prohibition on killing in Hinduism
, which recognizes that it "may be inevitable and indeed necessary" in certain circumstances. In monotheistic traditions, certain acts are viewed in more absolute terms, such as abortion
. However, in the latter case, a 2008 study by the Barna Group found that those within religious traditions have a higher divorce rate than those in non-religious demographic groups (atheists and agnostics). Indeed, religion is not always positively associated with morality. Philosopher David Hume
stated that, "the greatest crimes have been found, in many instances, to be compatible with a superstitious piety and devotion; Hence it is justly regarded as unsafe to draw any inference in favor of a man's morals, from the fervor or strictness of his religious exercises, even though he himself believe them sincere."
The overall relationship between faith and crime
is unclear. A 2001 review of studies on this topic found "The existing evidence surrounding the effect of religion on crime is varied, contested, and inconclusive, and currently no persuasive answer exists as to the empirical relationship between religion and crime." Dozens of studies have been conducted on this topic since the twentieth century. A 2005 study by Gregory S. Paul
published in the Journal of Religion and Society argues for a positive correlation
between the degree of public religiosity in a society and certain measures of dysfunction, an analysis published later in the same journal contends that a number of methodological problems undermine any findings or conclusions to be taken from the research. In another response, Gary Jensen builds on and refines Paul's study. His conclusion is that a "complex relationship" exists between religiosity and homicide "with some
dimensions of religiosity encouraging homicide and other dimensions discouraging it". Meanwhile, other studies seem to show positive links in the relationship between religiosity and moral behavior—for example, surveys suggesting a positive connection between faith and altruism. Modern research in criminology also acknowledges an inverse relationship between religion and crime, with some studies establishing this connection. A meta-analysis of 60 studies on religion and crime concluded, “religious behaviors and beliefs exert a moderate deterrent effect on individuals’ criminal behavior”.
Religious morals can diverge from commonly-held contemporary moral positions, such as those on murder
, mass atrocities, and slavery
. For example, Simon Blackburn
states that "apologists for Hinduism defend or explain away its involvement with the caste system, and apologists for Islam defend or explain away its harsh penal code or its attitude to women and infidels". In regard to Christianity, he states that the "Bible
can be read as giving us a carte blanche for harsh attitudes to children, the mentally handicapped, animals, the environment, the divorced, unbelievers, people with various sexual habits, and elderly women". He provides examples such as the phrase in Exodus
22:18 that has "helped to burn alive tens or hundreds of thousands of women in Europe and America": "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," and notes that the Old Testament
God apparently has "no problems with a slave-owning society", considers birth control a crime punishable by death, and "is keen on child abuse". Blackburn notes morally suspect themes in the Bible's New Testament as well.
Moral codesCodified morality is generally distinguished from custom
, another way for a community to define appropriate activity, by the former's derivation from natural
or universal principles. Some religious communities see the Divine
as providing these principles through revelation
, sometimes in great detail. Such codes may be called laws, as in the Law of Moses
, or community morality may be defined through commentary on the texts of revelation, as in Islamic law
. Such codes are distinguished from legal or judicial right
, including civil rights
, which are based on the accumulated traditions, decrees and legislation of a political authority, though these latter often invoke the authority of the moral law.
Morality can also be seen as the collection of beliefs as to what constitutes a good life. Since throughout most of human
s have provided both visions and regulations for an ideal
life, morality is often confused with religious precept
s. In secular communities, lifestyle choices, which represent an individual
's conception of the good life, are often discussed in terms of "morality." Individuals sometimes feel that making an appropriate lifestyle choice invokes a true morality, and that accepted codes of conduct within their chosen community are fundamentally moral, even when such codes deviate from more general social principles.
Moral codes are often complex definitions of moral and immoral that are based upon well-defined value systems. Although some people might think that a moral code is simple, rarely is there anything simple about one's values
, etc. or, for that matter, the judgment of those of others. The difficulty lies in the fact that morals are often part of a religion
and more often than not about culture
codes. Sometimes, moral codes give way to legal code
s, which couple penalties or corrective actions with particular practices. Note that while many legal codes are merely built on a foundation of religious and/or cultural moral codes, often they are one and the same.
Examples of moral codes include the Golden Rule
; the Five Precepts and the Noble Eightfold Path
); the ancient Egyptian code of Ma'at; the Ten Commandments
; the Quran of Islam; Judaism's Noahide Law; and the yamas
of the Hindu scriptures.
Another related concept is the moral core which is assumed to be innate in each individual, to those who accept that differences between individuals are more important than posited Creators or their rules. This, in some religious systems and beliefs (e.g. Taoism
), is assumed to be the basis of all aesthetics
and thus moral choice. Moral codes as such are therefore seen as coercive—part of human politics
- MoralMoralA moral is a message conveyed or a lesson to be learned from a story or event. The moral may be left to the hearer, reader or viewer to determine for themselves, or may be explicitly encapsulated in a maxim...
- Value theoryValue theoryValue theory encompasses a range of approaches to understanding how, why and to what degree people should value things; whether the thing is a person, idea, object, or anything else. This investigation began in ancient philosophy, where it is called axiology or ethics. Early philosophical...
- Ethical dilemmaEthical dilemmaAn Ethical dilemma is a complex situation that will often involve an apparent mental conflict between moral imperatives, in which to obey one would result in transgressing another....
- EthicsEthicsEthics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.Major branches of ethics include:...
- Buddhist morality
- Christian morality
- TattvaTattvaTattva is a Sanskrit word meaning 'thatness', 'principle', 'reality' or 'truth'. According to various Indian schools of philosophy, a tattva is an element or aspect of reality conceived as an aspect of deity. Although the number of tattvas varies depending on the philosophical school, together they...
- Graded absolutismGraded absolutismGraded absolutism is a theory of moral absolutism which resolves the objection to absolutism that in moral conflicts we are obligated to opposites. Moral absolutism is the ethical view that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong regardless of other contexts such as their consequences or the...
- Moral developmentMoral DevelopmentMoral development focuses on the emergence, change, and understanding of morality from infancy to adulthood. In the field of moral development, morality is defined as principles for how individuals ought to treat one another, with respect to justice, others’ welfare, and rights...
- Trompenaars, Fons. Did the Pedestrian Die? ISBN 1-84112-436-2
- Brown, Paterson. "Religious Morality", Mind, 1963.
- Brown, Paterson. "Religious Morality: a Reply to Flew and Campbell", Mind, 1964.
- Brown, Paterson. "God and the Good", Religious studiesReligious Studies (journal)Religious Studies is a peer-reviewed academic journal published by Cambridge University Press. It addresses problems of the philosophy of religion in the context of a variety of religious traditions...
- Churchland, Patricia Smith. Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality, Princeton University Press, 2011. ISBN 0-6911-3703-X (Reviewed in The Montreal Review)
- The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the Definition of Morality
- Objective Morality An evolutionary approach
- Morality and Judaism chabad.org
- Wiki site for discussing and taking action on shared morals (WorldMoralMovement.org)
- Stephen Pinker on the Psychology and Evolutionary Biology of Morality