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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 3 2011: First, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/conscience, a definition of conscience:

    1. the inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action: to follow the dictates of conscience.

    2. the complex of ethical and moral principles that controls or inhibits the actions or thoughts of an individual.

    3. an inhibiting sense of what is prudent: I’d eat another piece of pie but my conscience would bother me.

    Richard Joyce in The Evolution of Morality (2006) calls our moral consciousness ‘innate’. Joyce surmises that “morality [and therefore he argues, conscience, which has its basis in moral judgment] exists in virtually every human individual. It develops without formal instruction, with no deliberate effort, and with no conscious awareness of its special features.” Interpreting one of his co-thinkers on morality, Robert Frank (1988), Joyce reiterates that conscience is “a repertoire of judgments and emotions (most notable, guilt) that motivate behavior in accordance with accepted standards of conduct even when external sanctions are absent.” When you catch sight of a dropped wallet and find $100 in it, what would be the right thing to do, bearing in mind you also found the owner’s name and address? The decision you make will tax your conscience, if you allow it to. You do have a conscience because you are vexed by the temptation. How will you feel if you keep the money and throw away the wallet? How would you explain yourself if you give back the wallet and pretend not to know what happened to the cash? As you should be able to see from this we are capable of moral judgment because our inner moral sensibility dictates, persuades, implores us to make the morally right decision. This, in my estimation, is the meaning and implication of conscientiousness - or our sense of what is morally right and wrong.

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