TED Conversations

Colin Erskine

This conversation is closed.

"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"

Share:

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Nov 3 2011: Morality is a constructed membrane for social action.

    There is no true morality and immorality, just as inductive reasoning is not perfect.

    Morality is the ever-changing set of rules on how we should act if we, as individuals and as a society, are to prosper.

    Murder is indeterminate. Murder of an individual who, if not murdered, would cause serious detrimental effects to society, is moral. Murder of an individual who, if not murdered, would cause serious benefits for society, is immoral.

    A problem lies in what is 'detrimental' or 'beneficial' to society. Once we as a society begin to formulate a unifying theory on what these two words embody, we will be able to define our morality.
    • Comment deleted

      • thumb
        Nov 4 2011: If society were to form some sort of technological hive mind (far into the future where all of our minds are all accelerated and interconnected by computer processors), this may allow for a fluid, balanced and clear transference and consideration of thoughts and opinions.

        This would have an effect similar to the way an individual mind operates today. Instead of a human whose actions have been stagnated by the different areas of his mind all bickering over the right thing to do, the human takes all experience into account and acts accordingly.

        Similarly, our capabilities in the future to share experiences and take into account all the experiences of others will become possible through super computer accelerating, and we will begin to transition from individual humans in a society to a single social organism.

        It may be a scary thought, and an extreme one, but one I've been thinking about nonetheless.
        • thumb
          Nov 4 2011: Nick, it seems like we were drinking from the same fountain of thought. If/when Singularity happens, it may render the concept of "morality" moot. It would be interesting to see how our decisions would be guided, and whether or not they'd vary and/or diverge into opposing polarities, if we all shared the same experiences.
      • thumb
        Nov 12 2011: I defer to Nature. Nature has no morality. There is no right or wrong or good vs. evil. Morality is my strong belief in something that has a past existence within my culture and is held in such person high-reguard, it can direct one's life choices. All that said, they have an equal chance of being right or wrong in terms of the law.
        Some folks think gambling is morally wrong some think its right, but legally it would only depend on the location the gambling was taking place.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.