Saturday, 14 June 2008

Moral Maze

. The Oxford English dictionary defines a moral thus: "concerned with the principles of right and wrong behaviour and the goodness or badness of human character". However, that is far from exhaustive definition: in essence, when seeking to define a moral and morality we can start with its charactisation as something that is purely subjective. Morals and morality are not tangible, they can't be touched. They exist purely in the vastness that is humanities mental universe but yet that is not the entire truth.

Values and morals are a form of mediation between our mental universe and the physical one that surrounds us. They are also a form of mediation between each other; as such they are heavily conditioned by what may be called ‘environmental factors’. Here it is easy to see why they vary from person to person; each person is born different and is shaped by different experiences.

This is also why attempts to formulate universal moral codes usually fail and can often result in questionable moral stances. Not only do they fail to take into account the vastness of the differential between people and experiences but they also fail to take account of the varied situations that people find themselves in. For example, take a pretty universal moral dictum; 'Thou shalt not kill'. A soldier in war could never live by that dictum, it is their job to kill.

Sometimes universal morality can have the downright immoral consequences. For example; a women is an abusive marriage, her parents and kin know but still insist she maintain the marriage due to the sanctity of marriage. In my view, in that scenario, the parents 'morals' are deeply immoral. Thus 'virtue' becomes 'vice'.

Of course, this touch's on religion's role in morality. Religion's are in large part a giant attempt to impose a universal code on it's followers through a system of structures both mental (religious texts and stories) and physical (churches and other organisations). Anybody who follows current affairs really needs no instruction on how damaging that can be. This doesn't mean that all religions moral code is bad; there is a human core to some religious morality which is worth noting.

Does this mean that all attempts to design a universal moral code are doomed to failure? Yes, most probably. It doesn't mean that people will stop doing it because people feel so much better when they have guide-ropes to help them feel the way in uncertain territory. However, that approach is certainly not so much outdated as outmoded by the onward march of events. A new approach would have to incorporate a very of the world that recognises shades of grey in-between the black and white. Also it would have to recognise that the concepts of 'good' and 'evil' and 'right' and 'wrong' are intrinsically linked. Nobody would know what was right without knowing what was wrong and vice-versa.

Morals and morality are at the centre of an age old debate about how we relate to each other and co-exist. One thing is for certain; that debate will continue for a long time yet.


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