defining morality

Defining Morality

What is morality? This is something that I often think about – what really makes up right and wrong? Is it just something that we have made up ourselves, as humans – what we would normally class as ethics – or is it something that exists independently of humans, something intrinsic?

If you speak to religious people they will probably base morality on what their religious documentation says – for example Christians would follow the 10 commandments and the word of the bible, Muslims would follow the Qur’an, but how do we know they have the correct understanding or morals – especially if you believe in one religion, you would not follow the morality laid down by another, so there is no single documentation of morality in a religious sense.

Furthermore, how do we know there is a single morality – is something that is right for one person, right for another? And what about if two people know different things about a situation – for example, if there were two people in an argument and one was about to shoot the other, then there was a witness who also had a gun and and took the action of shooting the person who was going to shoot the other, would that person be right or wrong? If you applied the letter of the law you would probably say that person was in the wrong for shooting and murdering another person. If you were a religious believer you might also say the same thing – that its wrong to take someone else’s life. However, as the bystander, you might feel fully justified – you have just saved the life of another person in the only way that you could. If this story had panned out differently and you as the bystander did not take any action, you would have seen an innocent, unarmed, person get murdered and you would have stood by – would that in itself be a wrongful act?

How about if there was another bystander, or saw the shooting take place, but did not see that the recipient of the bullet was about to murder an un-armed person, if they did not glean any further information on the matter, they would observer believe that the shooter was an evil person and had committed an immoral act, whist the shooter would believe they had committed a morally justified act. Who would be right out of those two people? And who could judge who was right?

Further more, if this situation arose, and there were two different thoughts about who was wrong and who was right – even if both of those people were wrong, which is possible, would there still be an actual true answer to this moral dilemma – for example, lets assume the murdered party actually had a similar justified reason for trying to kill the person they were arguing with – perhaps they were about to trigger the detonator on a bomb that would kill hundreds of people – so it would turn out the person who was shot, was actually not about to commit an immoral act, but a justified one, who would be in the right or wrong then? And assuming nobody had the full information, and everybody assumed wrongfully that they were justified in doing what they did, would there still be a true verdict on who was wrong and who was right, even if nobody knew about it?

Personally I think that morality is up to each individual to decide upon – if you genuinely believe that you are doing something for the right purpose, then I think that is morally right. Even if the same action might be morally wrong for another person, who understood a situation differently. And if there is a God out there, I think they would also take that stance – I don’t think God would persecute someone who honestly thought they were acting to the best of their ability and to protect others and do the right thing, I don’t think God would punish someone for that. I don’t think they would say, even though you thought you were doing the right thing, I had my own set of rules that you didn’t know about, and I am judging you on those rules.

This also brings up another question – if you took a murderer for example, and you found they had been brought up to think murder was OK, and when they were committing murder, they thought honestly in their heart that it was either ok, or justified or unavoidable, would they be morally wrong? They would definitely be ethically wrong, they would definitely be legally wrong, but would they be morally wrong?

If you think back in time to when  cave men roamed the earth, and how they stayed in very small groups, and how there were perhaps dinosaurs and lots of hostile animals in the wild, I am sure they would have had to kill anything that they come across, or be killed. So would they have been morally wrong to do that? And how about if they came across other cave men, they would all probably assume the other party were going to try and kill them, and so they would probably have acted first and kill the rival. Would they be morally wrong for doing that?

How about if a troubled person has grown up around a similar environment – perhaps surrounded with sexual abuse, physical abuse and in an environment where everyone around them was an enemy, a potential threat. If they went out into society with that attitude, they might believe that’s the normal way to behave – in a sense they might be acting like the cave man, who considers himself to be living in a hostile world where it is kill or be killed. In this situation would they be morally wrong for acting on those killer instincts?

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