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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: Just an observation, but the statement "To me, morality always seems best defined as sound reasoning and conclusion forming. Of course, as opposed to unsound reasoning." seems to be a definition better associated with logic (left/right brain reasoning). Morality, like common sense, doesn't always seem to be logical, or in the best interest of the individual. I'm not religiously inclined but there is something to being accountable to something outside yourself. Perhaps best understood by a parents for their first child. Hard to define the feeling but when you do, you often recognize it. If it was easy to define better perhaps it would have been already done but I understand the frustration as a "buzz" word.
    • Nov 3 2011: "Morality, like common sense, doesn't always seem to be logical, or in the best interest of the individual." - I'll explain my position a bit more: I've observed the opposite to be true. While moral decisions aren't always intuitively logical they are necessarily an attempt at logical soundness. They may be fallacious by chance, but the intent is always soundness, getting things right/accurate in the broadest possible sense, over unsoundness, getting things wrong/inaccurate.

      Even if you were religious and you expected some behaviors would please your god while others wouldn't, the moral thing to do in any case would be whatever seemed to logically conclude in the pleasure of your deity. Eat apple = bad, thefeore no-eat apple, kinda thing.

      This is to suggest that something like taking care of your first born child and protecting them is actually a more sound conclusion for a parent to act on than the opposite. Especially if the proof for that course of action comes in the form of internalized feelings. Similarly, you could examine the rationality (aka. "morality") of eating when "feeling" hungry. The feeling is real and in the absence of any better ideas, you act on it.. you eat.

      That morality might somehow be the superstitious version of rationality while technically no different is highly suspect.

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