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Morality

Morality

MORALITY AS A DESCRIPTIVE CATEGORY

MORALITY AS A NORMATIVE CATEGORY

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Morality (Latin neuter plural: moralia ) is a multifaceted term. It is commonly used to describe the behavioral teaching and practical lessons of literary and artistic works. As a descriptive term about the cultural and social realms, morality signifies the habits and norms of behavior that establish right and wrong conduct for individuals in particular societies. Normatively, morality is the systematic and principled reflection concerned with determining what ought to be the standards of conduct and duties for particular agents and communities and how these standards are reproduced in members of society. In this sense, morality thus specifies the proper practice of individual and communal life and prescribes what constitutes the good life and how it is to be attained. In doing so, moral reflection draws upon the cultural, religious, and theoretical worldviews and values of particular societies in determining the proper standards of behavior.

MORALITY AS A DESCRIPTIVE CATEGORY

Morality is a term of social theory used to describe the range of acceptable human behaviors, that is, the norms that structure and guide proper, intentional behavior for a particular community. In this sense, morality describes the customs and principles that particular societies use to determine what is right or wrong for behavior in that social order. At the external level, morality can merely signify the customs and common practices that tell a member of society how to act within interpersonal relationships and social circumstances. These practices and customs generally rest upon a theoretical and ideal foundation, sometimes called a worldview, that expresses the internal beliefs and values of the society. Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) called this the collective or common consciousness and defined it by stating, The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to the average members of society forms a determinate system with a life of its own ([1893] 1984, pp. 38-39). Such a worldview system provides the horizon of values and stock of norms and duties within which individuals and social groups determine courses of intentional action. Individual and communal actions are judged according to their conformity with or deviation from these duties. This horizon of beliefs and values functions to reinforce desired behaviors, reproduce norms in succeeding generations, and impose implicit and explicit sanctions for deviant behavior.

MORALITY AS A NORMATIVE CATEGORY

Morality also describes the process of judgment whereby people determine what actions to undertake. As opposed to anthropological descriptions of social and individual behaviors (e.g., what is the behavior of this set of peoples?) or judgments that are narrowly customary (e.g., should I send a thank-you note to the host of the dinner?), aesthetic (e.g., does this new building fit into the city skyline?), or political (e.g., how do we shape the democratic will of the people to adopt this particular policy?), moral judgments specifically inquire into what behavior or action one ought to undertake. This view of morality, most commonly studied in moral philosophy and moral theology, denotes a set of inquiries that purport to describe and analyze human behavior through determining what ought to be the case from some objective perspective that goes beyond descriptive accounts of actual behavior or mere instrumental achievement of prudential goals. How do humans learn these norms and standards of behavior that specify what duties and obligations they must respond to?

Moral judgments draw upon the mores of a social group to specify proper behavior. Moral norms are based upon the stock of principles and values contained in the worldview that set duties and obligations for human action and behavior. These standards may come to be known by means of external revelation; by referring to the traditions, practices, and behaviors determined by protocol or exemplars in ones community; by reference to internal emotional sentiments shaped through character development and habituation; or by rational determinations carried out through the agents own cognitive capacities.

Many early societies (e.g., Hebrews, Babylonians) believed that norms were revealed by divine beings through a special dispensation of knowledge by the deity. This tradition continues today in some religious moral reflection, commonly called divine-command ethics, wherein the norms of behavior for the religious group are thought to emerge through revelation (i.e., through the text of the Bible or the law given through a religious authority) that shapes the authoritative traditions and rituals of religious communities.

The customs, habits, and traditions of social groups can also serve as the primary source of norms for setting standards of behavior. The authority of the norms rests on their continuity with the communitys past practices and its own standards of the ideal member. The customs might be implicit and known to the individual only through informal means. For instance, communal and familial expectations can place pressure on individuals to act in certain ways or follow a particular life course. These customs may also be codified in formal codes, such as moral proverbs, narratives, or codes of conduct. While communal customs still inform and undergird positive laws in many modern social orders, modern legal systems have increasingly divorced the legitimacy of law from mere custom or historical practice.

Some accounts of the role of custom and habit in the moral life (i.e., those by Scottish philosophers Francis Hutcheson [1694-1746] and David Hume [1711-1776]) hold that the knowledge of right and wrong arises from sensorily perceiving that an action produces sentiments of moral pleasure or displeasure. In this view, humans are constitutively feeling creatures, and right or wrong action gives rise to distinctively moral pleasure or displeasure. Reason, while helping to discern what ought to be done, cannot motivate an agent to act on its own. The motivating force, rather, is the pleasure produced through the moral action. The moral norms of a community are customs and habits that reflect these moral sentiments, reproducing proper character of community members by rewarding proper actions and sanctioning illicit behavior.

The utilitarian theories of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) extend this view of seeking pleasure but require a duty for the human to maximize societal benefit. While humans are motivated to action by the desire for pleasure and avoidance of pain, reason is used to determine what course of action will maximize pleasure. This calculus is based on the principle of utilitythe agent must always act so as to maximize the greatest happiness for the greatest number in society. Utilitarians thus submerge the individuals moral desires under the overall outcome of the well-being of the community.

Some moral theory privileges the role of reason as the source of the moral norms. The Stoic philosophers, as well as thinkers in the Christian natural law tradition, held that rational capacities allow human beings to discern the purpose of life from perceiving the order of nature and rationally comprehending the role and structure of human life within the cosmos. The modern emphasis on the autonomy of the will, shaped by the Protestant emphasis on individual conscience and unmediated relation to the divine, was articulated by modern philosophers like John Locke (1632-1704) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). In this strand of moral thought, the human is thought to be a rational agent who reflectively engages in determining what should be the proper course for his or her action. For Kant, the freedom of individuals using their own reason to determine the best course of action and set ends for themselves is the basis of the possibility of the moral life. The norms of action are determined through universalizing the proposed action and determining whether the action, if it were to become a universal law, could be rationally consistent as a duty for all agents. The good will is not, therefore, merely one that acts in a way that conforms to the custom of the society. Rather, the good will is one that is motivated by pure respect for the moral law: to act upon ones rationally prescribed duty, not merely to achieve instrumental outcomes or gain advantage. The moral life is self-imposed, not derived from obedience to external sources. In this way, Kant thought that humans stood out from their natural, animalistic aspects, and at the same time the individual could never legitimately be made subject to anothers arbitrary will. This sentiment reflected and heralded the liberal, democratic political ideals of his age.

In general the moral life is the process of applying these norms in practical circumstances to achieve desirableor goodends, thereby fulfilling ones duties and obligations. What constitutes these good ends, and the corresponding moral obligation that thereby arises, depends upon the source of the norms applied. The agent who lives in a manner that is responsive to these moral obligations acts over time in ways that inculcate good habits. These habits are said to produce a virtuous agent if the moral actions cause the agent to develop predispositions to act in ways that fulfill his or her duties. Likewise, those who fail to respond to obligations, and develop predispositions to act contrary to moral duty, are said to act immorally and may, over time, develop vicious character traits.

Ethics in the Greco-Roman and early Christian traditions tended to focus on the agents character in relation to society. The moral life revolved around shaping character so as to develop habits of virtue that led to the good life, a state of happiness, or well-being (eudaimonia ). Thinkers in the Aristotelian tradition conceived of moral education as a process of transforming the agents character so that his or her desires were inclined toward the virtuous mean of possible courses of action. If ones habits inclined the agent to flee a dangerous situation where ones assistance was required to save another (cowardice) or to wantonly intervene without regarding the complexity of the situation (recklessness), virtuous agents, instead, would be properly habituated so their instincts, emotions, and habits would allow them to intervene in a cool and calculated way, not withering in the face of the danger (courage).

Under pressures from modernization, the traditional patterns and norms of the moral life have become more disoriented in contemporary society. Industrialization and urbanization have upended small-scale communities and transformed social bonds; historical, scientific, and technological understanding is more predominant, disrupting traditional explanations for value origins and compromising their explanatory legitimacy (disenchantment); globalization has decentered community and national identity through a growing recognition of the basic diversity of worldviews; and the social and political order is increasingly instrumentalized and bureaucratized, leading to coordination and steering problems for building political will. In the wake of the upheaval of traditional societies, professional ethics (especially in law, business, and medicine) have arisen as a mode of moral regulation that set standards of behavior whose legitimacy derives from consensus among members of the profession. In society at large, traditional moral norms are felt to be decreasingly persuasive or authoritative, and the charge is often levied that contemporary society has become increasingly individualistic and relativistic. In reaction to this decentering, some thinkers such as Alasdair MacIntyre have charged that traditional moral categories, while still commonly used, are uncoupled from their worldview contexts and their resulting use is often considered to be confused, shallow, and contingent.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Aristotle. 1962. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. Martin Ostwald. New York: Macmillan.

Bentham, Jeremy. [1789] 1948. The Principles of Morals and Legislation. New York: Hafner.

Durkheim, Émile. [1893] 1984. The Division of Labor in Society. Trans. W. D. Halls. New York: Free Press.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1975. Legitimation Crisis. Trans. Thomas McCarthy. Boston: Beacon.

Hadot, Pierre. 1995. Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. Trans. Michael Chase. Oxford: Blackwell.

Hume, David. [1739] 1969. A Treatise of Human Nature. New York: Penguin.

Hutcheson, Francis. [1728] 2002. An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of Passions and Affections, with Illustrations on the Moral Sense. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund.

Kant, Immanuel. [1785] 1991. The Metaphysics of Morals. Ed. Mary Gregor. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Kant, Immanuel. [1788] 1997. The Critique of Practical Reason. Ed. Mary Gregor. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Locke, John. [1690] 1997. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. New York and London: Penguin.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1984. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. 2nd ed. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Mill, John Stuart. 1969. Utilitarianism (1861). In The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. J. M. Robinson, vol. 10, 203-259. London and Toronto: Routledge and University of Toronto Press.

Michael Kessler

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morality

morality Morality refers to ethical issues — principles of right and wrong conduct — as well as instances of real behaviour — the manner in which individuals comply more or less fully with such standards. Based on the Latin mor — ‘a manner, custom’ — this term covers all kinds of human actions, although it is often associated specifically with virtue in sexual conduct. To encourage moral conduct, early theological representations of sin and evil highlighted the body's capacity for suffering. Luxuria or lust was commonly represented as a nude woman whose past misconduct prepared her present torture — in some church statuary snakes devoured her breasts and vulva, or toads issued from her mouth. In the medieval and early modern ages, morality referred to a religious framework; through diet and bodily maintenance, the individual was expected to defend himself against the temptation of the flesh.

Codes of morality have evolved in keeping with larger cultural, historical, and economic currents. Prostitution had long been considered wicked and detrimental to the commonweal, but it was not until the nineteenth century, when national interests were linked directly to commercial economies, that this practice became known as ‘the social evil’. More than other traditional targets of moral reform, such as the drunkard or blasphemer, the prostitute was vilified because of her unproductivity; she partook of sexuality without repaying the nation with the commodities it needed most — citizens and domestic stability.

In modern industrial societies, the body has largely lost its connotation as a vessel of sin and has become increasingly involved in the secular mechanisms of consumption and display. The 1920s were crucial for the formation of the modern-day body ideal; by the end of the decade, women, under the combined impact of the cosmetic, fashion, and advertising industries, had for the first time in large numbers put on makeup and rayon stockings, and abandoned corsets for rubber girdles. The rage for sunbathing in the interwar years further legitimated the public display of the body. Whereas Christian religious traditions aimed to subordinate the body to ‘higher’ spiritual ends, modern consumer culture works to release the naked body from shame and guilt. The individual's primary responsibility shifts from his soul to his health, body shape, and appearance. Since the 1960s the ideal of the youthful body has dominated Western culture; fitness and slimness have largely replaced spiritual goals as indicators of human worth. But the opprobrium inflicted on the immoral remains powerful: those who do not maintain standards of bodily maintenance are considered lazy, self-indulgent, even a burden to national well-being.

While age-old controversies regarding homosexuality, pornography, drinking, gambling, and other ‘immoral’ practices remain current today, they are perhaps less compelling than the dilemmas created by recent innovations in medical technology. The availability of techniques to alter the beginning of life (through fertility drugs, surrogacy, or prenatal testing) and the end of life (through doctor-assisted suicide or machine-enhanced existence) has prompted the growth of a new morality — the ethics of medical intervention on the human body.

Julia Douthwaite

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Morality

Morality


Morality (Latin mores, from mos, implying custom, practice, or conduct) is a standard of character measured against established philosophical or other categories. Morality may be assessed by psychoanalytic and social theory as a degree of superego formation and socialization (Sigmund Freud). It can be seen as a mark of maturity in relation to stages of a cognitive-structural hierarchy (Lawrence Kohlberg). It is often viewed as a level of character formation and responsible self-appropriation (Erik Erikson). Moral self-consciousness is tangible in relation to the customs, manners, and character that constitute life within a shared space (Charles Taylor). The axes of moral reflection can generally be seen as constituted by deontological or teleological considerations, such as questions of obligation (actions, intentions, etc.) or value (respect, dignity, etc.).


See also Freud, Sigmund; Value

rodney l. petersen

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morality

mo·ral·i·ty / məˈralətē; mô-/ • n. (pl. -ties) principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. ∎  behavior as it is affected by the observation of these principles: the past few years have seen a sharp decline in morality. ∎  a particular system of values and principles of conduct, esp. one held by a specified person or society: a bourgeois morality. ∎  the extent to which an action is right or wrong: behind all the arguments lies the issue of the morality of the possession of nuclear weapons. ∎  behavior or qualities judged to be good: they saw the morality of equal pay.

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morality

moralitybanditti, bitty, chitty, city, committee, ditty, gritty, intercity, kitty, nitty-gritty, Pitti, pity, pretty, shitty, slitty, smriti, spitty, titty, vittae, witty •fifty, fifty-fifty, nifty, shifty, swiftie, thrifty •guilty, kiltie, silty •flinty, linty, minty, shinty •ballistae, Christie, Corpus Christi, misty, twisty, wristy •sixty •deity, gaiety (US gayety), laity, simultaneity, spontaneity •contemporaneity, corporeity, femineity, heterogeneity, homogeneity •anxiety, contrariety, dubiety, impiety, impropriety, inebriety, notoriety, piety, satiety, sobriety, ubiety, variety •moiety •acuity, ambiguity, annuity, assiduity, congruity, contiguity, continuity, exiguity, fatuity, fortuity, gratuity, ingenuity, perpetuity, perspicuity, promiscuity, suety, superfluity, tenuity, vacuity •rabbity •improbity, probity •acerbity • witchetty • crotchety •heredity •acidity, acridity, aridity, avidity, cupidity, flaccidity, fluidity, frigidity, humidity, hybridity, insipidity, intrepidity, limpidity, liquidity, lividity, lucidity, morbidity, placidity, putridity, quiddity, rabidity, rancidity, rapidity, rigidity, solidity, stolidity, stupidity, tepidity, timidity, torpidity, torridity, turgidity, validity, vapidity •commodity, oddity •immodesty, modesty •crudity, nudity •fecundity, jocundity, moribundity, profundity, rotundity, rubicundity •absurdity • difficulty • gadgety •majesty • fidgety • rackety •pernickety, rickety •biscuity •banality, duality, fatality, finality, ideality, legality, locality, modality, morality, natality, orality, reality, regality, rurality, tonality, totality, venality, vitality, vocality •fidelity •ability, agility, civility, debility, docility, edibility, facility, fertility, flexility, fragility, futility, gentility, hostility, humility, imbecility, infantility, juvenility, liability, mobility, nihility, nobility, nubility, puerility, senility, servility, stability, sterility, tactility, tranquillity (US tranquility), usability, utility, versatility, viability, virility, volatility •ringlety •equality, frivolity, jollity, polity, quality •credulity, garrulity, sedulity •nullity •amity, calamity •extremity • enmity •anonymity, dimity, equanimity, magnanimity, proximity, pseudonymity, pusillanimity, unanimity •comity •conformity, deformity, enormity, multiformity, uniformity •subcommittee • pepperminty •infirmity •Christianity, humanity, inanity, profanity, sanity, urbanity, vanity •amnesty •lenity, obscenity, serenity •indemnity, solemnity •mundanity • amenity •affinity, asininity, clandestinity, divinity, femininity, infinity, masculinity, salinity, trinity, vicinity, virginity •benignity, dignity, malignity •honesty •community, immunity, importunity, impunity, opportunity, unity •confraternity, eternity, fraternity, maternity, modernity, paternity, taciturnity •serendipity, snippety •uppity •angularity, barbarity, bipolarity, charity, circularity, clarity, complementarity, familiarity, granularity, hilarity, insularity, irregularity, jocularity, linearity, parity, particularity, peculiarity, polarity, popularity, regularity, secularity, similarity, singularity, solidarity, subsidiarity, unitarity, vernacularity, vulgarity •alacrity • sacristy •ambidexterity, asperity, austerity, celerity, dexterity, ferrety, posterity, prosperity, severity, sincerity, temerity, verity •celebrity • integrity • rarity •authority, inferiority, juniority, majority, minority, priority, seniority, sonority, sorority, superiority •mediocrity • sovereignty • salubrity •entirety •futurity, immaturity, impurity, maturity, obscurity, purity, security, surety •touristy •audacity, capacity, fugacity, loquacity, mendacity, opacity, perspicacity, pertinacity, pugnacity, rapacity, sagacity, sequacity, tenacity, veracity, vivacity, voracity •laxity •sparsity, varsity •necessity •complexity, perplexity •density, immensity, propensity, tensity •scarcity • obesity •felicity, toxicity •fixity, prolixity •benedicite, nicety •anfractuosity, animosity, atrocity, bellicosity, curiosity, fabulosity, ferocity, generosity, grandiosity, impecuniosity, impetuosity, jocosity, luminosity, monstrosity, nebulosity, pomposity, ponderosity, porosity, preciosity, precocity, reciprocity, religiosity, scrupulosity, sinuosity, sumptuosity, velocity, verbosity, virtuosity, viscosity •paucity • falsity • caducity • russety •adversity, biodiversity, diversity, perversity, university •sacrosanctity, sanctity •chastity •entity, identity •quantity • certainty •cavity, concavity, depravity, gravity •travesty • suavity •brevity, levity, longevity •velvety • naivety •activity, nativity •equity •antiquity, iniquity, obliquity, ubiquity •propinquity

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