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Colin Erskine

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"Morality" is an abused term/concept. Can you suggest a solid definition?

We use the term "morality" so liberally across different conversations. Usually metaphorically without getting specific. It bothers me to no end when excellent speakers use the term "morality" loosely as if it necessarily implies specific behaviors like "sharing = moral" and "murder = immoral." To me, morality always seems best defined as sound reasoning and conclusion forming. Of course, as opposed to unsound reasoning.

It seems really clear that morality represents only that basic intention in any living creature to do something right as opposed to doing it erroneously. That is, it seems morality comes down to the intent of doing what seems to make the most sense to the best of the abilities of the individual or group of individuals.

As a simple anecdotal example, consider indulging a vice and stealing a purse from a store and then getting caught. While it may have seemed like a rational thing to do under the circumstances of expecting to get away with it, upon getting caught it would become apparent that the decision was not well calculated and certainly most harmful to the one person you were intending to take care of most, yourself. Your failure to achieve your own aim of self-enhancement is what dictates your actions as immoral, even from your own perspective.

Of course, there are a number of vices one might indulge that have negative consequences not only for the self but perhaps for society at large. Any action a ruler might take which brings about the unrest and revolt of her people, would be highly suspicious as being immoral since a ruler's decisions ought to be made to enhance their rule rather than degrade it.

Moral actions in all cases, seem to be those which the individual (and perhaps other individuals) can observe as clearly having the intended effect both in foresight as well as in hindsight. All other actions seem to neatly fit the description of immoral.

I'm interested in hearing other holistic, absolute definitions of the term "morality"

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    Nov 2 2011: Morality is to act according a certain arbitrary subset of a 'system of actions', in which some are chosen as virtue, thus given more value, instead of others, which are devaluated and become vices. Morality can be found in aesthetical taste, sex, communication, food preparing and hygiene, or attitude towards others or political preferences, because they respond to a set of arbitrary values that become paradigmatic and –in a certain way– indisputable. Because of its arbitrary nature, morality is not universal, but a definition like this can be transposed to many contexts.

    The arbitrary choice of values comes from human needs, but human needs vary according to the environment, physical (productive) and cultural (ideological). This needs arise from the need of fulfilling of a collective or cultural project, a 'munis', that ultimately leads to some final end, a 'telos', but –again– the ends and means depend on culture. The fulfillment of one's role in the 'munis' leads one to 'be more', 'be better', more moral.

    Also, the values that are considered 'moral' change through time, a couple of hundred years ago an enlightened moralist would think that basic human needs for a colonist in South America would be different for the peasant, for the slave and for the indian, and he was right in his context, from his point of view, because those were the moral values of their time, and he was fulfilling his role in his social scheme. Now we could consider this moral as wicked and 'immoral', because it's not our moral system, nor thought schemes, nor economic conditions or social structures. Western thought has modeled a variety of ways to looking at values, from Plato, to St. Agustine to Derrida and beyond, but they are not unique, nor 'naturally true'.

    I tend to agree that when one discusses about moral things as natural, given, or axiomatic in any way, one has a non natural interest, a will to be accomplished though others, a will to exercise power.
    • Nov 3 2011: Morality and Rationality.. I don't think there's a difference at all. Both are informed and acted on subjectively based on context.
    • Nov 5 2011: Morality is to behave in a manner that is to the overall benefit of all concerned (and not just humans). It is difficult to come up with an agreed set of rules because life is complex. However, the principle is definitely not arbitrary.

      It is common for people to expect others to obey the law but make a special exception of themselves or close ones in the same circumstances. There is nothing arbitrary about that and it is definitely immoral.

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