Thursday, November 20, 2008

What is morality?

Morality (from the Latin moralitas "manner, character, proper behavior") has three principal meanings.

In its first, descriptive usage, morality means a code of conduct held to be authoritative in matters of right and wrong.

Morals are created by and define society, philosophy, religion, or individual conscience.

In its second, normative and universal sense, morality refers to an ideal code of conduct, one which would be espoused in preference to alternatives by all rational people, under specified conditions.

To deny 'morality' in this sense is a position known as moral skepticism

In its third usage, 'morality' is synonymous with ethics, the systematic philosophical study of the moral domain.

Ethics seeks to address questions such as how a moral outcome can be achieved in a specific situation (applied ethics), how moral values should be determined (normative ethics) what morals people actually abide by (descriptive ethics), what the fundamental nature of ethics or morality is, including whether it has any objective justification (meta-ethics), and how moral capacity or moral agency develops and what its nature is (moral psychology).

In applied ethics, for example, the prohibition against taking human life is controversial with respect to capital punishment, abortion and wars of invasion.

In normative ethics, a typical question might be whether a lie told for the sake of protecting someone from harm is justified.

In meta-ethics, a key issue is the meaning of the terms "right" or "wrong".

Moral realism would hold that there are true moral statements which report objective moral facts, whereas moral anti-realism would hold that morality is derived from any one of the norms prevalent in society (cultural relativism); the edicts of a god (divine command theory); is merely an expression of the speakers' sentiments (emotivism); an implied imperative (prescriptive); falsely presupposes that there are objective moral facts (error theory).

Some thinkers hold that there is no correct definition of right behavior, that morality can only be judged with respect to particular situations, within the standards of particular belief systems and socio-historical contexts.

This position, known as moral relativism, often cites empirical evidence from anthropology as evidence to support its claims.

The opposite view, that there are universal, eternal moral truths is known as moral absolutism.

Moral absolutists might concede that forces of social conformity significantly shape moral decisions, but deny that cultural norms and customs define morally right behavior.


No comments: