I’m about to start reading a book titled, “The Elements Of Moral Philosophy,” by James Rachels and Stuart Rachels. Now in it’s 9th edition, it is used as a text book by many Philosophy programs around the country. I’ve been thinking about morality lately, in light of all the current happenings in the U.S. such as the immigrant situation, our president, and famous people being arrested for seemingly immoral acts such as rape, wire fraud, theft by swindle, etc, etc. So the question is, what is morality? As far as laws are concerned, how is morality decided upon, and where does morality come from? Is my sense of morality the same as yours? If you’ve read philosophy you will understand that few if any books give you concrete answers. Often times they leave you with more questions. This is not a bad thing, however. Mostly I hope to find insights on what other people’s ideas on morality are. The more you know, as the T.V. commercial used to say, the more you know.
So what is morality? From the Oxford online dictionary we have this: “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.” This definition pretty much leaves the question wide open. Purveyors of pyramid schemes believe it’s perfectly alright to cheat stupid people out of their money. We hear tales all the time of the elderly being cheated by con game artists. These people’s sense of morality tells them that this is okay. This differs sharply with the morality of honesty. So obviously morals differ from one person to the next. But how can this be? If my morality is different from yours, how do we both come by it? How do we arrive at two separate answers to the same question? I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that, but the question of how we each arrive at our own definition of what morality is, is fascinating.
Does religion play a part in morality? Do you get your morality from the god you believe in? Many people think so. One Christian preacher online said he believed that if he didn’t have a relationship with god he would be out raping and murdering. Thank god for his god, I guess. If morality comes from god, then what about all the people who don’t believe, that are good and decent people? And what about all the people who do believe that commit atrocities in society? The Dalai Lama says that his religion is kindness. That’s all, just be kind. But what is kindness? If a woman shoots her partner because she thinks she’s just too stupid to live, is she being kind? Putting her out of her misery? Maybe this is not a good example because most of us probably feel shooting someone would be immoral. But there are those who don’t. Is helping someone who doesn’t walk very well cross the street, kindness? These two examples are markedly different but both could be considered kindness from a certain point of view. So how do we decide what morality is and how do we argue the differences?
I believe morality is something you learn. From the beginning of your life through to the end, you are deciding what morality is. I believe it is based on many factors from how you are raised, the environment you are in, to the influences you are subjected to. Each person has their own idea of what being moral is. The laws of the U.S. are based on what the majority believes is moral. In some countries it is acceptable to behead some one for certain crimes. Others, it is not. If we got our morals from a god then we’d all think alike, wouldn’t we? If we were instilled with morality from a creator would we even need laws? Wouldn’t we just all simply know how to act? Our ideas of what is good or bad are based on what we think is good and bad for us personally.
Here’s a scenario: You are starving. You have no money and no way to get some. There are no places you can go to get free food. Is it immoral to steal a loaf of bread? And another: Your loved one is slowly dying from a terrible, painful disease. They ask you to end their life. Is it moral to end their suffering? To kill them. How do you decide? What is right in these situations, and what is not? This is what fascinates me about morality. How you come up with the answer says a lot about you as a person. If two people come up with two different answers, is one of them wrong? How do we know?
I don’t know why these things afflict me so, but I’m glad they do. To keep your mind working, especially as you get older is a very good thing. A discussion of morality is really good because these questions are hard to answer and yet many of our thoughts and actions are based on our personal morality, every day. Unfortunately, we spend very little time actually thinking about it. We don’t question our morality much. Most of us see a news item or hear something about something someone did and immediately we think we know whether or not it was right or wrong. But how do we know? That, is the question.