Morality (from the Latin moralitas "manner, character, proper behavior") is the differentiation among intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good (or right) and bad (or wrong). A moral code is a system of morality (for example, according to a particular philosophy, religion, culture, etc.) and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code. The adjective moral is synonymous with "good" or "right." Immorality is the active opposition to morality (i.e. good or right), while amorality is variously defined as an unawareness of, indifference toward, or disbelief in any set of moral standards or principles.
- 1 Philosophy
- 2 Anthropology
- 3 Evolution
- 4 Neuroscience
- 5 Psychology
- 6 Morality and politics
- 7 Morality and religion
- 8 Moral codes
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Morality and Ethics
Ethics (also known as moral philosophy) is that branch of philosophy which addresses questions about morality. The word 'ethics' is "commonly used interchangeably with 'morality' ... and sometimes it is used more narrowly to mean the moral principles of a particular tradition, group, or individual." Likewise, certain types of ethical theories, especially deontological ethics, sometimes distinguish between 'ethics' and 'morals': "Although the morality of people and their ethics amounts to the same thing, there is a usage that restricts morality to systems such as that of Kant, based on notions such as duty, obligation, and principles of conduct, reserving ethics for the more Aristotelian approach to practical reasoning, based on the notion of a virtue, and generally avoiding the separation of 'moral' considerations from other practical considerations."
Descriptive and Normative
- In its descriptive sense, "morality" refers to personal or cultural values, codes of conduct or social mores. It does not connote objective claims of right or wrong, but only refers to that which is considered right or wrong. Descriptive ethics is the branch of philosophy which studies morality in this sense.
- In its normative sense, "morality" refers to whatever (if anything) is actually right or wrong, which may be independent of the values or mores held by any particular peoples or cultures. Normative ethics is the branch of philosophy which studies morality in this sense.
Realism and anti-realism
Philosophical theories on the nature and origins of morality (that is, theories of meta-ethics) are broadly divided into two classes:
- Moral realism is the class of theories which hold that there are true moral statements that report objective moral facts. For example, while they might concede that forces of social conformity significantly shape individuals' "moral" decisions, they deny that those cultural norms and customs define morally right behavior. This may be the philosophical view propounded by ethical naturalists, however not all moral realists accept that position (e.g. ethical non-naturalists).
- Moral anti-realism, on the other hand, holds that moral statements either fail or do not even attempt to report objective moral facts. Instead, they hold that moral claims are derived either from an unsupported belief that there are objective moral facts (error theory, a form of moral nihilism); the speakers' sentiments (emotivism, a form of moral relativism); or any one of the norms prevalent in society (ethical subjectivism, another form of moral relativism).
Theories which claim that morality is derived from reasoning about implied imperatives (universal prescriptivism), the edicts of a god (divine command theory), or the hypothetical decrees of a perfectly rational being (ideal observer theory), are considered anti-realist in the robust sense used here, but are considered realist in the sense synonymous with moral universalism.
Tribal and territorial
Celia Green made a distinction between tribal and territorial morality. She characterizes the latter as predominantly negative and proscriptive: it defines a person’s territory, including his or her property and dependents, which is not to be damaged or interfered with. Apart from these proscriptions, territorial morality is permissive, allowing the individual whatever behaviour does not interfere with the territory of another. By contrast, tribal morality is prescriptive, imposing the norms of the collective on the individual. These norms will be arbitrary, culturally dependent and ‘flexible’, whereas territorial morality aims at rules which are universal and absolute, such as Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’ and Geisler's graded absolutism. Green relates the development of territorial morality to the rise of the concept of private property, and the ascendancy of contract over status.
In-group and out-group
Some observers hold that individuals apply distinct sets of moral rules to people depending on their membership of an "in-group" (the individual and those they believe to be of the same culture or race) or an "out-group" (people not entitled to be treated according to the same rules). Some biologists, anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists believe this in-group/out-group discrimination has evolved because it enhances group survival. Gary R. Johnson and V.S. Falger have argued that nationalism and patriotism are forms of this in-group/out-group boundary. Jonathan Haidt has noted that experimental observation indicates an in-group criterion provides one moral foundation substantially used by conservatives, but far less so by liberals.
Peterson and Seligman  approach the anthropological view looking across cultures, geo-cultural areas and across millennia. They conclude that certain virtues have prevailed in all cultures they examined. The major virtues they identified include wisdom / knowledge; courage; humanity; justice; temperance; and transcendence. Each of these includes several divisions. For instance humanity includes love, kindness, and social intelligence.
Fons Trompenaars, author of Did the Pedestrian Die?, tested members of different cultures with various moral dilemmas. One of these was whether the driver of a car would have his friend, a passenger riding in the car, lie in order to protect the driver from the consequences of driving too fast and hitting a pedestrian. Trompenaars found that different cultures had quite different expectations (from none to almost certain).
The development of modern morality is a process closely tied to the Sociocultural evolution of different peoples of humanity. Some evolutionary biologists, particularly sociobiologists, believe that morality is a product of evolutionary forces acting at an individual level and also at the group level through group selection (though to what degree this actually occurs is a controversial topic in evolutionary theory). Some sociobiologists contend that the set of behaviors that constitute morality evolved largely because they provided possible survival and/or reproductive benefits (i.e. increased evolutionary success). Humans consequently evolved "pro-social" emotions, such as feelings of empathy or guilt, in response to these moral behaviors.
In this respect, morality is not absolute, but relative and constitutes any set of behaviors that encourage human cooperation based on their ideology to get ideologic unity. Biologists contend that all social animals, from ants to elephants, have modified their behaviors, by restraining immediate selfishness in order to improve their evolutionary fitness. Human morality, though sophisticated and complex relative to other animals, is essentially a natural phenomenon that evolved to restrict excessive individualism that could undermine a group's cohesion and thereby reducing the individuals' fitness.. On this view, moral codes are ultimately founded on emotional instincts and intuitions that were selected for in the past because they aided survival and reproduction (inclusive fitness). Examples: the maternal bond is selected for because it improves the survival of offspring; the Westermarck effect, where close proximity during early years reduces mutual sexual attraction, underpins taboos against incest because it decreases the likelihood of genetically risky behaviour such as inbreeding.
The phenomenon of 'reciprocity' in nature is seen by evolutionary biologists as one way to begin to understand human morality. Its function is typically to ensure a reliable supply of essential resources, especially for animals living in a habitat where food quantity or quality fluctuates unpredictably. For example, some vampire bats fail to feed on prey some nights while others manage to consume a surplus. Bats that did eat will then regurgitate part of their blood meal to save a conspecific from starvation. Since these animals live in close-knit groups over many years, an individual can count on other group members to return the favor on nights when it goes hungry (Wilkinson, 1984) Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce (2009) have argued that morality is a suite of behavioral capacities likely shared by all mammals living in complex social groups (e.g., wolves, coyotes, elephants, dolphins, rats, chimpanzees). They define morality as "a suite of interrelated other-regarding behaviors that cultivate and regulate complex interactions within social groups." This suite of behaviors includes empathy, reciprocity, altruism, cooperation, and a sense of fairness. In related work, it has been convincingly demonstrated that chimpanzees show empathy for each other in a wide variety of contexts. They also possess the ability to engage in deception, and a level of social 'politics' prototypical of our own tendencies for gossip and reputation management.
Christopher Boehm (1982) has hypothesized that the incremental development of moral complexity throughout hominid evolution was due to the increasing need to avoid disputes and injuries in moving to open savanna and developing stone weapons. Other theories are that increasing complexity was simply a correlate of increasing group size and brain size, and in particular the development of theory of mind abilities. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion suggested that our morality is a result of our biological evolutionary history and that the Moral Zeitgeist helps describe how morality evolves from biological and cultural origins and evolves with time within a culture.
Mirror neurons are neurons in the brain that fire when another person is observed doing a certain action. The neurons fire in imitation of the action being observed, causing the same muscles to act minutely in the observer as are acting grossly in the person actually performing the action. Research on mirror neurons, since their discovery in 1996, suggests that they may have a role to play not only in action understanding, but also in emotion sharing empathy. Cognitive neuro-scientist Jean Decety thinks that the ability to recognize and vicariously experience what another individual is undergoing was a key step forward in the evolution of social behavior, and ultimately, morality. The inability to feel empathy is one of the defining characteristics of psychopathy, and this would appear to lend support to Decety's view.
Neuroimaging and stimulation
The explicit making of moral right and wrong judgments coincides with activation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex while intuitive reactions to situations containing implicit moral issues activates the temporoparietal junction area. Stimulation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex by transcranial magnetic stimulation has been shown to change moral judgments of human subjects.
In modern moral psychology, morality is considered to change through personal development. A number of psychologists have produced theories on the development of morals, usually going through stages of different morals. Lawrence Kohlberg, Jean Piaget, and Elliot Turiel have cognitive-developmental approaches to moral development; to these theorists morality forms in a series of constructive stages or domains. Social psychologists such as Martin Hoffman and Jonathan Haidt emphasize social and emotional development based on biology, such as empathy. Moral identity theorists, such as William Damon and Mordechai Nisan, see moral commitment as arising from the development of a self-identity that is defined by moral purposes: this moral self-identity leads to a sense of responsibility to pursue such purposes. Of historical interest in psychology are the theories of psychoanalysts such as Sigmund Freud, who believe that moral development is the product of aspects of the super-ego as guilt-shame avoidance.
Morality and politics
If morality is the answer to the question 'how ought we to live' at the individual level, politics can be seen as addressing the same question at the social level. It is therefore unsurprising that evidence has been found of a relationship between attitudes in morality and politics. Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham have studied the differences between liberals and conservatives, in this regard. Haidt found that Americans who identified as liberals tended to value care and fairness higher than loyalty, respect and purity. Self-identified conservative Americans valued care and fairness less and the remaining three values more. Both groups gave care the highest over-all weighting, but conservatives valued fairness the lowest, whereas liberals valued purity the lowest. Haidt also hypothesizes that the origin of this division in the United States can be traced to geohistorical factors, with conservatism strongest in closely knit, ethnically homogenous communities, in contrast to port-cities, where the cultural mix is greater, thus requiring more liberalism.
Group morality develops from shared concepts and beliefs and is often codified to regulate behavior within a culture or community. Various defined actions come to be called moral or immoral. Individuals who choose moral action are popularly held to possess "moral fiber", whereas those who indulge in immoral behavior may be labeled as socially degenerate. The continued existence of a group may depend on widespread conformity to codes of morality; an inability to adjust moral codes in response to new challenges is sometimes credited with the demise of a community (a positive example would be the function of Cistercian reform in reviving monasticism; a negative example would be the role of the Dowager Empress in the subjugation of China to European interests). Within nationalist movements, there has been some tendency to feel that a nation will not survive or prosper without acknowledging one common morality, regardless of its content. Political Morality is also relevant to the behaviour internationally of national governments, and to the support they receive from their host population. Noam Chomsky states that 
“ ... if we adopt the principle of universality : if an action is right (or wrong) for others, it is right (or wrong) for us. Those who do not rise to the minimal moral level of applying to themselves the standards they apply to others—more stringent ones, in fact—plainly cannot be taken seriously when they speak of appropriateness of response; or of right and wrong, good and evil. ” “ In fact, one of the, maybe the most, elementary of moral principles is that of universality, that is, If something's right for me, it's right for you; if it's wrong for you, it's wrong for me. Any moral code that is even worth looking at has that at its core somehow. ”
Morality and religion
Within the wide range of moral traditions, religious moral traditions co-exist with secular moral frameworks such as humanism, utilitarianism, and others. There are many types of religious morals. Modern monotheistic religions, such as Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and to a certain degree others such as Sikhism, define right and wrong by the laws and rules set forth by their respective gods and as interpreted by religious leaders within the respective faith. Polytheistic religious traditions tend to be less absolute. For example, within Buddhism, the intention of the individual and the circumstances should be accounted for to determine if an action is right or wrong. Religions provide different ways of dealing with moral dilemmas. For example, there is no absolute prohibition on killing in Hinduism, which recognizes that it "may be inevitable and indeed necessary" in certain circumstances. In monotheistic traditions, certain acts are viewed in more absolute terms, such as abortion or divorce. However, in the latter case, a 2008 study by the Barna Group found that non-religious demographic groups (atheists and agnostics) had a lower divorce rate than those within religious traditions.
The overall relationship between faith and crime is unclear. A 2001 review of studies on this topic found "The existing evidence surrounding the effect of religion on crime is varied, contested, and inconclusive, and currently no persuasive answer exists as to the empirical relationship between religion and crime." Dozens of studies have been conducted on this topic since the twentieth century. A 2005 study by Gregory S. Paul published in the Journal of Religion and Society argues for a positive correlation between the degree of public religiosity in a society and certain measures of dysfunction, an analysis published later in the same journal contends that a number of methodological problems undermine any findings or conclusions to be taken from the research. In another response, Gary Jensen builds on and refines Paul's study. His conclusion is that a "complex relationship" exists between religiosity and homicide "with some dimensions of religiosity encouraging homicide and other dimensions discouraging it". Meanwhile, other studies seem to show positive links in the relationship between religiosity and moral behavior—for example, surveys suggesting a positive connection between faith and altruism. Modern research in criminology also acknowledges an inverse relationship between religion and crime, with some studies establishing this connection. A meta-analysis of 60 studies on religion and crime concluded, “religious behaviors and beliefs exert a moderate deterrent effect on individuals’ criminal behavior”.
Religious morals can diverge from commonly-held contemporary moral positions, such as those on murder, mass atrocities, and slavery. For example, Simon Blackburn states that "apologists for Hinduism defend or explain away its involvement with the caste system, and apologists for Islam defend or explain away its harsh penal code or its attitude to women and infidels". In regard to Christianity, he states that the "Bible can be read as giving us a carte blanche for harsh attitudes to children, the mentally handicapped, animals, the environment, the divorced, unbelievers, people with various sexual habits, and elderly women". He provides examples such as the phrase in Exodus 22:18 that has "helped to burn alive tens or hundreds of thousands of women in Europe and America": "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," and notes that the Old Testament God apparently has "no problems with a slave-owning society", considers birth control a crime punishable by death, and "is keen on child abuse". Blackburn notes morally suspect themes in the Bible's New Testament as well.
Codified morality is generally distinguished from custom, another way for a community to define appropriate activity, by the former's derivation from natural or universal principles. Some religious communities see the Divine as providing these principles through revelation, sometimes in great detail. Such codes may be called laws, as in the Law of Moses, or community morality may be defined through commentary on the texts of revelation, as in Islamic law. Such codes are distinguished from legal or judicial right, including civil rights, which are based on the accumulated traditions, decrees and legislation of a political authority, though these latter often invoke the authority of the moral law.
Morality can also be seen as the collection of beliefs as to what constitutes a good life. Since throughout most of human history, religions have provided both visions and regulations for an ideal life, morality is often confused with religious precepts. In secular communities, lifestyle choices, which represent an individual's conception of the good life, are often discussed in terms of "morality." Individuals sometimes feel that making an appropriate lifestyle choice invokes a true morality, and that accepted codes of conduct within their chosen community are fundamentally moral, even when such codes deviate from more general social principles.
Moral codes are often complex definitions of moral and immoral that are based upon well-defined value systems. Although some people might think that a moral code is simple, rarely is there anything simple about one's values, ethics, etc. or, for that matter, the judgment of those of others. The difficulty lies in the fact that morals are often part of a religion and more often than not about culture codes. Sometimes, moral codes give way to legal codes, which couple penalties or corrective actions with particular practices. Note that while many legal codes are merely built on a foundation of religious and/or cultural moral codes, often they are one and the same.
Examples of moral codes include the Golden Rule; the Five Precepts and the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism (see Śīla); the ancient Egyptian code of Ma'at; the Ten Commandments of Judaism and Christianity; the Quran of Islam; Judaism's Noahide Law; and the yamas and niyama of the Hindu scriptures.
Another related concept is the moral core which is assumed to be innate in each individual, to those who accept that differences between individuals are more important than posited Creators or their rules. This, in some religious systems and beliefs (e.g. Taoism and Gnosticism), is assumed to be the basis of all aesthetics and thus moral choice. Moral codes as such are therefore seen as coercive—part of human politics.
- Value theory
- Ethical dilemma
- Buddhist morality
- Christian morality
- Graded absolutism
- Moral development
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- The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the Definition of Morality
- Objective Morality An evolutionary approach
- Morality and Judaism chabad.org
- Wiki site for discussing and taking action on shared morals (WorldMoralMovement.org)
- Stephen Pinker on the Psychology and Evolutionary Biology of Morality
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