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Yoga Korunta

Life & Politics

Location: United States

One learns, as nothing endures but change.

05 September 2006

Tuesday's Word: morality

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Morality refers to the concept of human ethics which pertains to matters of good and evil —also referred to as "right or wrong", used within three contexts: individual conscience, systems of principles and judgments — sometimes called moral values —shared within a cultural, religious, secular, Humanist, or philosophical community; and codes of behavior or conduct derived from these systems.

Personal morality defines and distinguishes among right and wrong intentions, motivations or actions, as these have been learned, engendered, or otherwise developed within each individual.

1 Conscience, belief, and code
2 Development of morality
3 Morality in judicial systems
4 Comparative morality among cultures
5 Moral codes
6 Moral core
7 See also
8 Book sources
9 External links

Conscience, belief, and code

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Human conscience is widely acknowledged to encourage individuals to do right; its origins and role are the subject of much discussion. Belief in an effective system of divine judgment often helps with personal motivation, as classically seen in the success of Medieval codes of knighthood and the spread of Islam. The desire to conform to the behavior of a group to which an individual belongs or aspires to belong is also a powerful force, though it may generally apply to more general cultural norms and customs, where the dichotomy is between proper and improper behavior.

Group morality develops from shared concepts and beliefs 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 fibre", whereas those who indulge in immoral behavior may be labelled 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.

Codified 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. In certain religious communities, the Divine is said to provide 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 history, religions have provided both visions and regulations for an ideal life (through such beliefs characterized by 'the god(s) know what's best for us') morality is often confused with religious precepts. 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.

The systematic study of morality is a branch of philosophy called ethics. Ethics seeks to address questions such as how one ought to behave in a specific situation (applied ethics), how one can justify a moral position (normative ethics), how one should understand the fundamental nature of ethics or morality itself, including whether it has any objective justification (meta-ethics), and the nature and explanation of moral capacity or the ontogenetic development of moral agency (moral psychology).

For example, in applied ethics, three issues that revolve around interpretations of the moral ban on murder — capital punishment, abortion and wars of invasion — are under contentious discussion in United States society and politics. In normative ethics, a common question is how one would justify a lie given for the sake of protecting someone from harm. A common meta-ethical question is of what is meant by the terms right or wrong. Moral realism would hold that the individual is attempting to elucidate some objective moral fact, whereas the various branches of moral non-realism would hold that morality is derived from either the norms of the prevalent society (cultural relativism), the edicts of a God (Divine Command Theory), is merely an expression of the speakers sentiments (emotivism), is an implied imperative (prescriptivism) or is literally nonsense (Error Theory).

Development of morality

While some philosophers and biologists hold that morality is a thin crust hiding egoism, amorality, and anti-social tendencies, others see morality as a product of evolutionary forces and as evidence for continuity with other group-living organisms. Proponents of what could be called "Natural Outgrowth Theory" see no conflict between evolutionary biology and morality since moral codes generally prescribe behavior that enhances individual fitness and group well-being. For example, the taboo against inbreeding encourages individuals to avoid producing defective offspring that would depress their reproductive fitness. Compliance with and internalization of social conventions leads to a sense of regularity that makes group living more predictable and hence, less stressful, for its members. Reciprocity ensures a reliable supply of essential resources, especially for animals living in a habitat where food quantity or quality fluctuates unpredictably. On any given night for vampire bats, some individuals fail to feed on prey while others consume a surplus of blood. Bats that have successfully fed 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).

Christopher Boehm (1982) has advanced a possible mechanism where natural selection pressures drove the incremental development of moral complexity throughout hominid evolution. In primate societies, a fight between high-ranking individuals raises the anxiety level of the entire troupe, so that third parties sometimes intervene to bring the quarreling parties to reconcile. A despotic dominance style like that observed in many macaque species also causes more stress for subordinates. As early hominids moved from arboreal to terrestrial habitats, anxiety-induced dispersal behavior would have exposed individuals to predation, forcing our ancestors to develop more efficient conflict management strategies if they were to enjoy the benefits of group living. The invention of stone tools around 2.5 million years ago made fights potentially more injurious, which further increased selection pressure for conflict interference and group controls on dominance behavior. In summary, living in close quarters on the open savanna with ready access to dangerous weapons compelled early hominids to develop strict codes of acceptable behavior.

Some evolutionary psychologists have argued that human morality originated from evolutionary processes. An innate tendency to develop a sense of right and wrong helps an individual to survive and reproduce in a species with complex social interactions. Selected behaviors, seen in abstraction as moral codes, are seen to be common to all human cultures, and reflect, in their development, similarities to natural selection and these aspects of morality can be seen in as the basis of some religious doctrine. From this, some also argue that there may be a simple Darwinian explanation for the existence of religion: that, regardless of the truth of religious beliefs, religion tends to encourage behavior beneficial to the species, as a code of morality tends to encourage communality, and communality tends to assist survival.

These explanations for the existence of morality do not, however, necessarily assist in deciding what is truly right for future actions. Should an individual's own morality really be determined by what is best for their genetic offspring (colloquially, but inaccurately, "the good of the species" [see group selection])? Viewholders counter that evolutionary psychology extends millions of years of empirical justification for our moral sense, provided that sense is indeed innate — more than recorded history could demonstrate. They claim sensible people would behave with morality knowing subconsciously that it has succeeded in the past. Still, an explanation of why and how humans could have a moral basis does not imply that they ought to hold these views.

Some observers hold that individuals have distinct sets of moral rules that they apply to different groups of people. There is the "ingroup," which includes the individual and those they believe to be of the same culture or race, and there is the "outgroup," whose members are not entitled to be treated according to the same rules. Some biologists, anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists believe this ingroup/outgroup difference is an evolutionary mechanism, one which evolved due to its enhanced survival aspects. Gary R. Johnson and V.S. Falger have argued that nationalism and patriotism are forms of this ingroup/outgroup boundary.

The evolutionary critique points to the radical ways which morality differs across times and cultures among human beings. Very few activities are always morally wrong across all human societies. For example, some groups still practice forms of infanticide or incest, activities that would be condemned harshly in most Western societies. It has been argued that morality is simply whatever norms are present within a given society at a given time, while the other argument lies in the existence of morality.

Morality in judicial systems

The law considers itself independent of morality, even if the law happens to reflect or intends to reflect morality. (Of course, it is not difficult toems, the word morality concretely means a requirement for the access to certain charges or careers, or for the obtaining of certain licenses or concessions, and generally consists of the absence of previous records on (e.g.) crimes, bankruptcy, political or commercial irregularities.

In some systems, the lack of morality of the individual can also be a sufficient cause for punishment, or can be an element for the grading of the punishment.

Especially in the systems where modesty (i.e., with reference to sexual crimes) is legally protected or otherwise regulated, the definition of morality as a legal element and in order to determine the cases of infringement, is usually left to the vision and appreciation of the single judge and hardly ever precisely specified. In such cases, it is common to verify an application of the prevalent common morality of the interested community, that consequently becomes enforced by the law for further reference.

The government of South Africa is attempting to create a Moral Regeneration movement. Part of this is a proposed Bill of Morals, which will bring a biblical-based "moral code" into the realm of law. This move by a nominally secular democracy has attracted relatively little criticism.

Comparative morality among cultures

There has been considerable work done in studying comparative morality among cultures. To such researchers, morality is not seen as a constant essential "truth" but as a series of values that is influenced by (and influences) the cultural context. This is often called moral relativism. [citation needed]

One well known commentator is Fons Trompenaars, author of Did the Pedestrian Die?, which tested various moral propositions. 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).

Moral codes

Moral codes are often complex definitions of right and wrong that are based upon well-defined value systems. They dictate proper personal conduct. Although some people might think that a moral code is simple, rarely is there anything simple about one's values, ethics, 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 codes, 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, ofttimes they are one and the same.

Examples of moral codes include the Golden Rule; Wiccan Rede; the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism; the ten commandments of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; the yamas and niyama of the Hindu scriptures; the ten Indian commandments; and the principle of the Dessek.

A related and more intricate (some say more corrupt) concept is an ethical code, which establishes tradeoffs and rationale for making decisions for the greater good. Some of these resemble a moral code, most are less strict and make no special claim to actually distinguish 'right' from 'wrong' in any absolute sense. The ethical code is concerned with weighing all the negative and positive results of an action, and making a decision based upon the greater good for a greater number.

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 Creators or their rules. This, in some religious systems (e.g. Taoism and Gnosticism), 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.

Moral core

To meet Wikipedia's quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup.Please discuss this issue on the talk page, or replace this tag with a more specific message. Editing help is available.This article has been tagged since January 2006.

The moral core of an individual is the extent to which that person will apply his or her notions of morality. It is centered on the individual and can be extended to include other people or groups. The individual sees these others within the moral core as deserving to be treated in the same way the individual personally wants to be treated.

The moral core is a principle that can determine how an individual applies particular moral values and beliefs. It is described in some theories of ethics as the limits to the rationality of ethics itself. From this perspective, morals are considered primarily aesthetic notions and not seen as directly sharable.

Persons who fall outside of an individual's moral core are not covered by that individual's notions of morality and do not enjoy its protections. Thus, the concept of a moral core can serve to explain apparent hypocrisy in people who claim to have particular ethical principles. For example, it might be used to explain why someone whose religion forbids murder can nevertheless support involvement in war or imposition of the death penalty for certain crimes. According to this theory, the people whose killing can be justified somehow fall outside the individual's moral core.

A moral core is presumed to be formed by experience, including especially parental moral examples, and the slow growth via cognition of a set of conditionings, inhibitions, and concepts of beauty through his or her entire lifetime. Although it may be demonstrated to train or inspire others, it cannot be shared in any way, and is constantly changing.

Some theories of morality, notably moral relativism, but also branches of theology, hold that there is little value in attempting to share moral cores or even to align moral choices except to the bare minimum needed to prevent conflict.

The opposite belief, imposing various degrees of standardization via a moral code and its enforcement, usually in a legal system, is that such cores either can be shared or are irrelevant to the process of social control and learning proper conduct.

This week's Word comes by suggestion of Catherine Belle. Merci, Mademoiselle! Bloggers, it was only upon preparation of this installment that it became evident how complex such a burdon could be; no wonder President Neanderthal is such a thug.


Blogger catherine belle said...

How about "venison" for your next word?

Blogger Yoga Korunta said...

How appropriate!

Bloggers, deer run the streets in Ohio. They are most active at dusk and dawn, but during the rut in late November they walk across city roads and don't care about cars.


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