What is morality?
To me, morality is ultimately divided into two distinct segments that will go on to define how you live your life and also how you perceive others and their actions. The two forms of morality are those based around either an almost universal instinct or something you were raised to understand as right or wrong. For the sake of ease, I will refer to the first as instinctual or nature and the second as societal or nurture.
So let’s talk about instinctual morality first. I want to believe that the majority of humans are built with a natural inclination to not want to do harm onto others unless stimulated. I believe it is in our very nature to see any action that does harm to others as morally wrong. I’d like to think that if we are told someone is a rapist or a serial killer or a sadist that they are vile and extremely morally wrong. That anyone who willingly and casually does harm to others without any sort of stimulus or provocation is morally wrong and deserving of punishment. Of course this isn’t to say that there aren’t individuals out there or even whole societies that see these sort of acts as morally okay. Some cultures are raised on the idea that killing is natural and totally acceptable while some individuals are simply born with the inability to process the idea of morality. But in the end, I believe the vast majority of humankind believes that when an action does undue harm to another, it is purely and undeniably morally wrong.
Then there is the other side of morality, the societal norms we are raised to believe are right or wrong. These are more complex and some can be difficult to see and especially admit to. A very strong example would be the concept of eating meat. Some cultures see eating pigs or cows as morally wrong, while others see eating dogs or cats as the same. Some cultures believe in equality among genders, others believe there is a very bold line between them. Some cultures view the act of killing, even known serial killers, as morally wrong while other cultures encourage the idea of “an eye for an eye”. This is where things get choppy and controversial within society; who is right and wrong here is just too hard to figure out.
But what really makes this part of morals hard to talk about is the fact that some actions can be easily classified as right or wrong but very challenging to actually develop a reason why that is so. Take for example the act of eating a dog, why is that so wrong to some and how is it different from eating a pig? Is it because the dog is a pet or a member of the family? But the same can be said for the pig. Is it because the dog is intelligent, able to perform tricks and empathize? But pigs can also learn tricks and feel for us, as well as a plethora of traditional livestock. Now this is where it can be said that it is morally wrong to kill and eat a dog but what about all of the other livestock that are slaughtered in droves everyday; do those animals not warrant a moral dilemma in this case?
Morality in the case of society is a very tricky subject to get around, because in this particular case some could say true harm is being done in killing the animals for meat. But is it really when the action leads to the feeding of others, the use of the remains, and the very idea of the circle of life? This isn’t a case where we kill the dog or pig for joy, we are using them to satiate hunger, the fur can be used for warmth, the bones for tools.
Morality is the set of principles separating right from wrong. But I feel it can also be further divided into whether it’s wrong because it causes pain or suffering without warning or wrong because we are raised to think it’s wrong. But morality also causes us to sometimes lash out at those who committed the act. This can lead to some very hard situations to deal with that can be overcome by not getting yourself stuck in those situations in the first place. But how can that be done? With this simple flow of questions to ask yourself before challenging the morals of another.
- Does it hurt anyone and if so, was it unwarranted or unprovoked?
- If it’s unwarranted, it can be seen as morally wrong by nature: feel free to challenge it.
- If it is warranted, consider whether that person is from a society where “an eye for an eye” is okay: challenge it based on that.
- If it doesn’t hurt anyone directly, does it disgust or disturb you?
- If yes, challenge it only if you can develop a convincing and logical reason why.
- If no, then why bother challenging it?
That flow of questions is what I use any and every time I feel some action or event is morally wrong. With it, I am able to decide whether or not it is morally wrong to be and whether or not I should voice my opinion on it. Because in the end, societal morality is what is generally the most discussed and debated and it really doesn’t need to be in the majority of cases in my honest opinion. What is morally right or wrong is really based on what you truly believe and whether or not it really does bother you to your core.
However, that is not to say that you are free to attack others for what they believe if you disagree with them. And that is a discussion for another day…