Sunday, June 28, 2009


What is morality? Why do we need morality? Where does morality come from? Is it from divine origin? What is 'my' basis of morality? These are the questions that popped into my mind when I think about morality. This is may seem, at first glance, simple to answer but it is more complicated than I (and maybe you) think.

I define morality/ethics as the set of codes and/or principles that guide a man's actions and choices. Morality is important because it guides us to live our lives efficient and enjoyable. Also, morality gives order to our life in a way that we can know what is good and bad.

The way I see it, morality do not come from a divine origin. Its origin would all boil down to survival. Think of the primitive humans (early humans who only thought of nothing but survival). They do not hurt their fellow humans because that would limit their chance of survival. Instead of killing or hurting each other, they work together (they hunt together) and find ways together to extend their survival. It is also the same with the basis of morality of Christians/theists. They do not do bad because they know they will burn in hell if they would. Same with atheists (at least me), I do not do bad to myself and others because I know that it can cause damage and hurt others and there are consequences if I would (I could hurt myself or I could go to jail). It will really boil down to survival. Not from divine origin.

Lastly, what is good and what is bad? For me, I consider an act as bad if it causes damage to myself and others. That is how I identify what is good and bad. But upon thinking about it, I found out that my basis for what is good and bad is, hmm I am not sure of the right word, a little bit flawed. I read interesting thoughts to ponder on my basis of morality at the Filipino Freethinkers forum (Yahoo Groups):

Morality is based too much on one's perspective (you'd be more offended if someone hurt your own family than an unknown person from far away, or better yet someone that you hate, people would even mutter "buti nga sa kanya, na-karma") that it's simply ridiculous to try to gauge or enforce it, I'd rather stick with what is legal and illegal.

Just going to add a few comments to your definitions while I try to come up with one myself, suddenly it doesn't sound so simple anymore when you add in extenuating circumstances :

- does this mean that there is no such thing as an immoral victimless crime? (cheating to pass a test, lying about trivial matters, sex fetishes and deviants)

- is it immoral if I sacrifice a few for the good of many? someone does get hurt in any case. does this excuse the sacrificer for directly harming the sacrificee if the net results saves more pain than it inflicts? (death penalty, torturing terrorists to extract information)

- what if the end justifies the means? (steal food for your family)

- what if the one being hurt doesn't mind or is very forgiving? does the action automatically make it not immoral?

- does temporary insanity, crimes of passion, and age give leeway to morality like it does in the penal system?

- if you're forced to commit a crime (children being used by syndicates) does that totally excuse you in terms of morality?

- if someone grew up on the wrong side of the fence with all the possible bad influences shaping his growth, is his actions more excusable than the same act done by a church-going person coming from a reputable family?

This guy (wcyaomuntek. I'm not sure of the name. Sorry.) is right. I guess it would be better to stick to what is legal and illegal. But I am still pondering about it (really). I just don't have enough time and enough brain cells to know it by now. Hmm..


jong said...

In your last paragraph you said, "I guess it would be better to stick to what is legal and illegal." If that's the case then you might be falling into the same trap as the theists you criticized in your previous article (Theist Morality vs. Atheist Morality), whose morality is shallow because it is based only on fear of divine punishment. If one bases morality solely on what is legal and illegal, then his morality is based simply on fear of legal punishmnent.

You are right in saying that morality is more complicated than what we think. A quick search in Wikipedia already yields three different meanings/usages of the word. And that was only at the introduction. Further down the article, ethics is mentioned, and ethics itself has many fields, as follows:

Descriptive ethics: What do people think is right?

Normative (prescriptive) ethics: How should people act?

Applied ethics: How do we take moral knowledge and put it into practice?

Meta-ethics: What does 'right' even mean?

Discreet Infidel said...

The morality of theist is shallow because they don't know "what" is really good and bad. They consider an act as bad if it contradicts the commandments of their God. They do not know that it can cause damage to others. They just know that it can hurt(dissapoint) their God if they wont follow the commandments. Plus the fear of hell.

On the other hand, knowing what is legal and illegal is not really shallow for one could know what is "really" good and bad. (Doing illegal acts would hurt others thus bad.)

But I am thinking, what if my basis for what is good and bad would depend on the situation??

jong said...

On your second to the last paragraph you said that "doing illegal acts would hurt others, thus bad." I beg to disagree because not all illegal acts can hurt others.

There are two types of crimes: malum in se (“wrong or evil in itself” - murder, rape, theft, robbery, kidnapping) and malum prohibitum (“wrong because prohibited” - non-wearing of seat belts, wrong parking, non-observance of the liquor or smoking ban, possession and/or sale of prohibited drugs).

While malum in se crimes definitely hurt others or at least cause damage or loss of others' properties, malum prohibitum crimes were only made into crimes because the lawmakers decided that they should be considered crimes. If I don't wear my seat belt while driving or even if I smoke pot in the privacy of my home, will I be hurting others?

Discreet Infidel said...

Oh yeah I forgot that.

Post a Comment