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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 4 2011: Morality is in the eye of the beholder.

    My suggestion for an "absolute definition of the term morality": It is a subjective set of principles determined by the people of a community, whether that community be defined by geography or culture.*

    I use "subjective" because what is considered "good" or "bad," "right" or "wrong," or "beneficial" or "detrimental," depends upon the unique perspectives of the person(s) supporting an idea/behavior and the person(s) opposing it. I use "determined by the people" because morality is a human construct, akin to religion and politics and everything else that ventures into "categorical imperatives." And, "of a community" because what is "subjective" to a person is also influenced by the person's social, cultural and environmental context.

    However, my suggestion for an "absolute definition" is not absolute. I may learn something tomorrow that may change it entirely. Such is the dilemma of a person trying to encapsulate and mummify a concept as ephemeral as "morality."

    * I use culture broadly: There is a science culture just as there is an American culture or a tribal culture.
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      Nov 7 2011: I agree with the suggestion that morality "is a subjective set of principles determined by the people of a community". Also with Fabio that "morality cannot be considered as absolute but related to a certain society, or group of people". I'm sure that the concept of morality has changed over time according to culture and level of enlightenment. The moral codes observed by the European countries who overtook African societies and before that the moral code of church in the middle ages as well as that of Sufi Islamism in the middle east were all completely different from each other even to the point of being misunderstood by one and another.
      Moral propriety keeps a community together with an understanding of what is right and wrong within that community. It is developed over time. What is right for one community may be unacceptable in another. One community's moral code may even be imposed on another in the event of conflict and defeat. What's worse, some people believe their moral code is superior to others. Here lies the problems we're seeing in the modern world. Why should a minority of Sunnis dictate the moral values of a majority Shias as we see in Bahrain? Why should western Christians impose their values on tribal homelands in Afghanistan? We may not be able to define morality except as a subjective construct but it sure is a hot topic!

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