It is said that morality is the virtue of doing good and evil, of following the rules and identifying when to break them. It is a broad concept that has evolved through time, taking different forms in different cultures. However, the meaning of morality has been widely debated for centuries: philosophers like John Locke argue that human beings are inherently good; Aristotle argues that people are born neither good nor bad but became one or another based on upbringing; Sigmund Freud believes humans have a ticking time-bomb inside their brain waiting to go off at any moment. Regardless of which view you subscribe to, it seems safe to say we agree with what Aristotle said about how being moral does require effort and learning how not to be immoral can often lead us into temptation.
What is Morality?
Aristotle believed that morality, or ethics, encompasses a set of values or beliefs and behaviors passed down through society. This view has been challenged by philosophers like John Locke who suggest that human beings are born good (in Locke’s understanding) but become corrupt and evil through upbringing and societal influences; whilst another group of philosophers such as Sigmund Freud believes that our actions ultimately stem from the dark impulses within our conscious minds. Either way, whatever interpretation of morality you subscribe to, it remains clear how important it is in our lives: without a recognition of good morals and respect for others, we could not even live together harmoniously in one society.
Normative Definitions of “Morality”:
There have been many attempts to define morality and the word remains a hotly debated topic, but most generally accept two basic definitions of it. The scholars Raymond Geuss and Margaret Gilbert explain their definition as:
Morality is behavior that, if universally performed, would meet the standards of a particular moral community (such as a church or city-state), and that is deemed good (or right) by members of that community.
By this definition, morality is not necessarily based on absolute truth – rather it’s more an internal frame of reference which we uphold because it provides us with a common belief system. Regardless of whether this definition is accurate or not, it remains clear how important morality is in our lives: it’s a belief system which often decides how we should act and treat others.
Prevalence of Morality:
Morality is often viewed as an intrinsic quality which human beings have or do not have. For example, if a theory suggests that morality stems from innate qualities then those with the most moral tendencies would be the most intelligent and clever. However, this theory is called out as inaccurate because many people are extremely intelligent and yet they commit immoral acts: George Washington was extremely intelligent but he participated in many immoral actions in his lifetime (as did some of his other ancestors).
Consequently, it is a commonly held belief that morality is something we ‘absorb’ from our upbringing (or the culture we live in) and that we naturally possess some sort of moral sense. Moral actions are thought to stem from our positions within society towards each other, whilst immoral actions stem from not following the law or the rules.
Importance of Morality:
So, is morality important? The answer to this question ultimately depends on the interpretation of morality. If you subscribe to the view that humanity is born good and evil, then it is quite reasonable to assume how important morality is in everyday life. However, we do not live under Aristotle’s theory of good and evil: we do not believe that our actions stem from anything innate within ourselves. This means that we do not believe in a set of beliefs or values imposed by society, which are then enforced by laws through our governments. This is not to say that the government does not have the potential to control morality through laws and regulations, however it would be more accurate to say that morality is important under Locke’s theory of morals.
Significance of Morality:
Regardless of which definition we subscribe to, morality is important for many reasons. Morality provides a common set of rules and regulations for all to uphold under a system of law. This ensures that, regardless of our differences in race, beliefs, or culture, we are bound by a set of values which we all respect. This safe-guard works in two ways: it protects the rights and freedoms of the individual and also allows us to live harmoniously together under one society.
As you can see, there is quite a lot of disagreement surrounding the definition of morality. However, one thing is certain: our actions and behavior are influenced by our beliefs and values. Moral actions are those which we believe benefit us or those which we believe somehow benefit other people around us. This belief corresponds to how we treat other people within society and how we act towards them. The moral system that was previously examined was derived from two philosophical systems: Utilitarianism and Locke’s theory of morals. By examining these two moral theories it is clear that both focus on the same concept of morality: how we treat our fellow human beings in society and how this affects everyone based on their individual situations.