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Ellen Feig

Professor, Bergen Community College


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Based upon a discussion we are having in the Idea area, I wonder - how do you define morality and why? Where does your definition come from?

I have been working on curriculum for college students that incorporates literature and the notion of being a moral, ethical person; it is clear that I need to step back and first come up with a clearer definition of morality or ethics.


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  • Jan 26 2013: To me, morality is the art of choosing the right thing to do based upon a series of principals defined by both the individual and the group. A person's acts are moral when they are driven by the principles defined by the group, and immoral when the person acts upon his/her own set of principles and generate conflict with the principles of the group.

    Ethics is another art, the art of making responsible decisions by properly pondering the damaging and beneficial consequences of such act.

    So morality is basically irrational while ethics is basically rational. Morality is about choosing what's right while ethics is about choosing what's best, but right and best may be different things, and even opposite. Thus,each human act can fall into 4 categories:

    1.- moral and ethical
    2.- immoral but ethical
    3.- ethical but immoral
    4.- immoral and unethical
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      Jan 26 2013: Hi George
      Can I get examples of # 2 & 3 category (example explains things in a clearer way at least to me) ?
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        Gail . 50+

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        Jan 26 2013: I'll give you some examples

        In America, gay marriage is immoral to many, whereas gay marriage (equal treatment under the law) is ethical to a growing number of people (now a majority of Americans). Soon, gay marriage will be both moral and ethical except for a few fundamentalist religious people who believe differently.

        Example 2: After 7 years of trying, my sister was finally pregnant. A sonogram showed that the fetus did not have a brain. It only had a brain stem. The "thing" that would never have the capacity to know that it was alive, would live for anywhere from 3 months to 6 years. The costs to the family would be more than financial. In addition to banktrupting them, it would have required so much effort and attention that the already living child would have paid a very real and severe price. If the parents gave up the unadoptable child (immoral) it would have placed a great and unfair burden on community (government) that would have had to pay people to take care of it (also immoral). Thus, they arrived at the conclusion that though immoral (in their belief system), an abortion was ethical.

        #3 and #2 mean the same thing
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          Jan 26 2013: Thanks for your examples.
          To me it's difficult to draw line between Morality & Ethics....at times these sound synymous to me.
          The way @ Kate Blake tried to draw line between these two in her post above seems convincing one...even taking that in consideration..

          The first example you gave seems to me is not a dilemma of morality vs ethics rather it's inability of law system to evolve as quick as personal morality / ethical standard of group in society evolved.

          Rreally appreciate your sharing personal story that brings things in the perspective how theoretical things can impact our lives (sincerely trying to feel what kind of pain your family went through to take that decision).The decision taken is absolutely moral to me but may not be Ethical from societal view point....
      • Jan 28 2013: Sorry I made typing mistake...
        Category 3... is moral but unethical

        Example of category 2: You eat human flesh as your only survival resource, it is clearly immoral but if you don't have any thing else to eat and you are starving I think it is ethical.

        Example of category 3: A single medical doctor going to bed with an adult patient, it is not immoral as both are adults, single and consented, but it is clearly unethical.

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