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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: I think that morality is defined around our basic human needs and it is universal. Our needs are freedom of expression, freedom of choice and equality.

    " Your failure to achieve your own aim of self-enhancement is what dictates your actions as immoral, even from your own perspective."

    I would not tie morality to self-enhancement. Self-enhancement is optional goal of any human being. I think we need morality because we have limited resources and space on this planet and therefore we need to ensure that individual's actions do not cause harm or unfairness to others while we all share the same resources and space?

    If each of us lives on our own planet, it does not really matter, from morality point of view, what we do and there will be no notion of wrong or right.
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      Nov 2 2011: I think that you've got a point, morality implies enhancement in some way, but where do your moral imperatives come? Aren't they part of a greater system of thought that brought us democracy and other constructions? What if you ask the universal values in a completely different context?
      • Nov 3 2011: Yes I think democracy is built upon universal values and morality. What a different context are you referring to?
    • Nov 3 2011: "I think we need morality because we have limited resources and space on this planet and therefore we need to ensure that "

      to be clear, I think "morality" is in the "therefore."

      X is important "because" Y.. that is, certain behaviors are important because they seem to make the most sense in a particular context. Slamming on the breaks is important BECAUSE someone is on the road. Choosing a red tie instead of a blue one for a gift is important BECAUSE jim tends to like red instead of blue. Donating to a charity is important BECAUSE their cause is perceived to be in dire need.

      It always seems to work out that there's "Good Reason" behind moral behaviors.

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