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An introduction to various kinds of morality

But the existence of large and heterogeneous societies raises conceptual problems for such a descriptive definition, since there may not be any such society-wide code that is regarded as most important.

This is strikingly illustrated by the fact that both C. But according to the taxonomy at the heart of this entry, all of these are versions of the descriptive sense, distinguished primarily by the size of the relevant group. Etiquette is sometimes included as a part of morality, applying to norms that are considered less serious than the kinds of norms for behavior that are more central to morality. When etiquette is included as part of morality, morality is almost always being understood in the descriptive sense.

One reason for this is that it is clear that the rules of etiquette are relative to a society or group. Law is distinguished from morality by having explicit written rules, penalties, and officials who interpret the laws and apply the penalties.

Although there is often considerable overlap in the conduct governed by morality and that governed by law, laws are often evaluated—and changed—on moral grounds. Some theorists, including Ronald Dworkin 1986have even maintained that the interpretation of law must make use of morality.

Although the morality of a group or society may derive from its religion, morality and religion are not the same thing, even in that case. Morality is only a guide to conduct, whereas religion is always more than this. For example, religion includes stories about events in the past, usually about supernatural beings, that are used to explain or justify the behavior that it prohibits or requires.

Although there is often a considerable overlap in the conduct prohibited or required by religion and that prohibited or required by morality, religions may prohibit or require more than is prohibited or required by guides to behavior that are explicitly labeled as moral guides, and may allow some behavior that is prohibited by morality. Even when morality is not regarded as the code of conduct that is put forward by a formal religion, it is often thought to require some religious explanation and justification.

However, just as with law, some religious practices and precepts are criticized on moral grounds, e. It is also being used in the descriptive sense when it refers to important attitudes of individuals. Just as one can refer to the morality of the Greeks, so one can refer to the morality of a particular person. In the 20th century R. Hare, in his earlier books 1952, 1963regarded moral judgments as those judgments that override all nonmoral judgments and that would be universalized by the person making the judgment.

This account of moral judgments naturally leads to a view of morality as being concerned with behavior that a person regards an introduction to various kinds of morality most important and as a guide to conduct that he wants everyone to adopt.

Guides to behavior that are regarded as moralities normally involve avoiding and preventing harm to others Frankena 1980and perhaps some norm of honesty Strawson 1961. But all of them involve other matters as well. This view of morality as concerning that which is most important to a person or group allows matters related to religious practices and precepts, or matters related to customs and traditions, e. A society might have a moral code according to which practices as necessary for purity or sanctity are more important than practices related to whether other persons are harmed.

A society may take as morally most important that certain rituals are performed or that certain sexual practices are prohibited, than that harms are avoided or prevented. Some societies may claim that their morality, which is more concerned with purity and sanctity, is based on the commands of God.

Moreover, most normative accounts entail that all moral agents would endorse morality, at least under certain circumstances. And most accounts of moral agency at work in such accounts do not include any negative attitudes toward harmless consensual sexual behavior. Many religions condemn certain harmless consensual sexual behavior as immoral, but other religions, which hold that morality is primarily concerned with avoiding and preventing harm, condemn these attitudes themselves as harmful and immoral.

A society might have a morality that takes accepting its traditions and customs, including accepting the authority of certain people and emphasizing loyalty to the group, as more important than avoiding and preventing harm. Such a morality might not count as immoral any behavior that shows loyalty to the preferred group, even if that behavior causes significant harm to innocent people who are not in that group.

Acting altruistically, at least with regard to those in the group, might be nearly equated with acting morally, regardless of its effects on those outside of the group. The familiarity of this kind of morality, which makes in-group loyalty almost equivalent to morality, seems to allow some comparative and evolutionary psychologists, including Frans De Waal 1996to regard an introduction to various kinds of morality animals to be acting in ways very similar to those that are regarded as moral.

It is possible for a society to have a morality that is concerned primarily with minimizing the harms that human beings can suffer. Such a society might claim that their morality is based on some universal features of human nature or of all rational beings.

Although all societies include more than just a concern for minimizing harm to some human beings in their moralities, this feature of morality, unlike purity and sanctity, or accepting authority and emphasizing loyalty, is included in everything that is regarded as a morality by any society.

Because minimizing harm can conflict with accepting authority and emphasizing loyalty, there can be fundamental disagreements within a society about the morally right way to behave in particular kinds of situations.

Some psychologists, such as Haidt, take morality to include concern with, at least, all three of the triad of 1 harm, 2 purity, and 3 loyalty, and hold that different members of a society can and do take different features of morality to be most important.

  1. Despite this important and controversial issue, morality, like all informal public systems, presupposes agreement on how to act in most moral situations, e. That is, one might claim that the guides to behavior of some societies lack so many of the essential features of morality, in the normative sense, that it is incorrect to say that these societies even have a morality in a descriptive sense.
  2. Etiquette is sometimes included as a part of morality, applying to norms that are considered less serious than the kinds of norms for behavior that are more central to morality. Modern versions of Utilitarianism have dropped the idea of maximizing pleasure in favour of maximizing the satisfaction of all relevant peoples' preferences and interests.
  3. Is it always wrong to treat people merely as a means to an end?

Most societies have moralities that are concerned with, at least, all three members of this triad. Concern with harm appears in the form of enforceable rules against killing, causing pain, mutilating, etc.

The Definition of Morality

But beyond a concern with avoiding and preventing such harms to members of certain groups, there may be no common content shared by all moralities in the descriptive sense. Nor may there be any common justification that those who accept morality claim for it; some may appeal to religion, others to tradition, and others to rational human nature. Beyond the concern with harm mentioned above, the only other features that all descriptive moralities have in common is that they are put forward by an individual or a group, usually a society, in which case they provide a guide for the behavior of the people in that group or society.

Ethical relativists such as Harman 1975Westermarck 1960Prinz 2007and Wong 1984, 2006 deny that there is any universal normative morality and claim that the actual moralities of societies or individuals are the only moralities there are. The harm caused by Christian missionaries who used morality as a basis for trying to change the practices of the societies with which they came in contact may have been one of the reasons why many anthropologists endorsed ethical relativism.

As a result, when the guide to conduct put forward by, for example, a religious group conflicts with the guide to conduct put forward by a society, it is not clear whether to say that there are conflicting moralities, conflicting elements an introduction to various kinds of morality morality, or that the code of the religious group conflicts with morality.

Members of the society who are also members of a religious group may regard both guides as elements of morality and differ with respect to which of the conflicting elements of the moral guide they consider most important.

There are likely to be significant moral disputes between those who consider different elements to be more important.

  • However, Sidgwick 1874 regarded moral rules as any rational rules of conduct;
  • There is continuing disagreement among fully informed moral agents about this moral question, even though the legal and political system in the United States has provided fairly clear guidelines about the conditions under which abortion is legally allowed;
  • But it is also motivational;
  • These definitions and theories also differ in how they understand what it is to endorse a code in the relevant way;
  • Three steps to the argument:

In small homogeneous societies there may be a guide to behavior that is put forward by the society and that is accepted by almost all members of the society. However, in larger societies people often belong to groups that put forward guides to behavior that conflict with the guide put forward by their society, and members of the society do not always accept the guide put forward by their society.

If they accept the conflicting guide of some other group to which they belong often a religious group rather than the guide put forward by their society, in cases of conflict they will regard those who follow the guide put forward by their society as acting immorally.

When relativized to an individual in this way, morality has less limitation on content than when it is taken to refer to the code of conduct put forward by a society or group. Still, if the person is rational, this guide will include prohibitions on causing harm. It is not clear whether it refers to 1 a guide to behavior that is put forward by a society, to which that person might or might not belong; 2 a guide that is put forward by a group, to which that person might or might not belong; 3 a guide that someone, perhaps that very person, regards as overriding and wants adopted by everyone else, or 4 a universal guide that all rational persons would put forward for governing the behavior of all moral agents.

However, if the individual is referring to his own morality, he is usually using it normatively; that is, he would usually accept the claim that all rational persons, at least under certain conditions, would endorse it.

However, Sidgwick 1874 regarded moral rules as any rational rules of conduct. Because all moralities in the descriptive sense include a prohibition on harming others, ethical egoism is not a morality in the descriptive sense. Because, as will be explained in the following section, all moralities in the normative sense not only include prohibitions on harming others but also are such that all rational persons would endorse that morality, ethical egoism is not a morality in the normative sense either.

Sidgwick does this, but he is decidedly in the minority in this respect. However, that fact that an individual adopts a moral code of conduct for his own use does not entail that the person requires it to be adopted by anyone else. An individual may adopt for himself a very demanding moral guide that he an introduction to various kinds of morality may be too difficult for most others to follow.

He may judge people who do not adopt his code of conduct as not being an introduction to various kinds of morality morally good as he is, without judging them to be immoral if they do not adopt it. For it may be that the individual would not be willing for others to try to follow that code, because of worries about the bad effects of predictable failures due to partiality or lack of sufficient foresight or intelligence.

Many moral skeptics would reject the claim that there are any universal ethical claims, where the ethical is a broader category than the moral. But another interesting class of moral skeptics includes those who think that we should only abandon the narrower category of the moral—partly because of the notion of a code that is central to that category.

These moral skeptics hold that we should do our ethical theorizing in terms of the good life, or the virtues.

1. Descriptive definitions of “morality”

Elizabeth Anscombe 1958 gave expression to this kind of view, which also finds echoes in the work of Bernard Williams 1985. On the other hand, some virtue theorists might take perfect rationality to entail virtue, and might understand morality to be something like the code that such a person would implicitly endorse by acting in an introduction to various kinds of morality ways. In that case, even a virtue theorist might count as a moral realist in the sense above.

But this appearance is deceptive. And the act-consequentialist J. Smart 1956 is also explicit that he is thinking of ethics as the study of how it is most rational to behave.

His embrace of utilitarianism is the result of his belief that maximizing utility is always the rational thing to do. On reflection this is not surprising. What is that to me? Even fewer think this option remains open if we are allowed to add some additional conditions beyond mere rationality: Definitions of morality in the normative sense—and, consequently, moral theories—differ in their accounts of rationality, and in their specifications of the conditions under which all rational persons would necessarily endorse the code of conduct that therefore would count as morality.

These definitions and theories also differ in how they understand what it is to endorse a code in the relevant way. Some hold that morality applies only to those rational beings that have certain specific features of human beings: These features might, for example, include fallibility and vulnerability. Other moral theories claim to put forward an account of morality that provides a guide to all rational beings, even if these beings do not have these human characteristics, e.

Among such theorists it is also common to hold that morality should never be overridden. That is, it is common to hold that no one should ever violate a moral prohibition or requirement for non-moral reasons. Though common, this view is by no means always taken as definitional.

  • To endorse a code in the relevant way, on this definition, is to think that violations of its norms make guilt and anger appropriate;
  • And the act-consequentialist J;
  • In fact, this would not be a bad way of defining morality, if the point of such a definition were only to be relatively theory-neutral, and to allow theorizing to begin;
  • This is pleasure or happiness;
  • In fact, reference to praise and blame may be more adequate than reference to guilt and anger, since the latter seem only to pick out moral prohibitions, and not to make room for the idea that morality also recommends or encourages certain behaviors even if it does not require them;
  • Although all societies include more than just a concern for minimizing harm to some human beings in their moralities, this feature of morality, unlike purity and sanctity, or accepting authority and emphasizing loyalty, is included in everything that is regarded as a morality by any society.

Sidgwick 1874 despaired of showing that rationality required us to choose morality over egoism, though he certainly did not think rationality required egoism either. More explicitly, Gert 2005 held that though moral behavior is always rationally permissible, it is not always rationally required.

Foot 1972 seems to have held that any reason—and therefore any rational requirement—to act morally would have to stem from a contingent commitment or an objective interest. And she also seems to have held that sometimes neither of these sorts of reasons might be available. Indeed, it is possible that morality, in the normative sense, has never been put forward by any particular society, by any group at all, or even by any individual.

That is, one might claim that the guides to behavior of some societies lack so many of the essential features of morality, in the normative sense, that it is incorrect to say that these societies even have a morality in a descriptive sense. This is an extreme view, however.

A more moderate position would hold that all societies have something that can be regarded as their morality, but that many of these moralities—perhaps, indeed, all of them—are defective. That is, a moral realist might hold that although these actual guides to behavior have enough of the features of normative morality to be classified as descriptive moralities, they would not be endorsed in their entirety by all moral agents. Moral realists do not claim that any actual society has or has ever had morality as its actual guide to conduct.

In the theological version of natural law theories, such as that put forward by Aquinas, this is because God implanted this knowledge in the reason of all persons. In the secular version of natural law theories, such as that put forward by Hobbes 1660natural reason is sufficient to allow all rational persons to know what morality prohibits, requires, etc. Natural law theorists also claim that morality applies to all rational persons, not only those now living, but also those who lived in the past.

In contrast to natural law theories, other moral theories do not hold quite so strong a view about the universality of knowledge of morality. Still, many hold that morality is known to all who can legitimately be judged by it.

  1. Three steps to the argument.
  2. Because all moralities in the descriptive sense include a prohibition on harming others, ethical egoism is not a morality in the descriptive sense. The claim that morality only governs behavior that affects others is somewhat controversial, and so probably should not be counted as definitional, even if it turns out to be entailed by the correct moral theory.
  3. The sort of definition described in section 3.