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Morality in Society

Essay by   •  December 18, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  1,884 Words (8 Pages)  •  839 Views

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Elaborate codes of conduct have been constructed and enforced since ancient times. Codes, upon which the foundation of survival and solidarity are relied upon, give humans the basic direction how to act and exist among one another. One form of this governance comes from State mandated laws, however, it is suggested that the basis for these laws are established from moral beliefs. It is morality which engages people to act appropriately. British philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote, "Without civic morality communities perish; without personal morality their survival has no value". Arguably, there is a need for morality in society, not only to lead a pleasant existence, but for survival.

If morals are necessary within a society, the question can be ask, what is morality? Morality is a set of beliefs, normalized internally and by society, by which individuals determines the rightness or wrongness of their actions. Morality is often generalized and codified among groups and cultures in an attempt to guide both individual and social behaviour. The methods of how these codes materialize are not always agreed upon. Certain people believe that morals and ethics are the product of God and religion, not a human construct. Religious scripture like the Holy Bible and Quran, as well as, revelations of those who have "spoken to God" determine what actions are considered good and evil. God is considered the highest form of perfection and therefore, his scrutiny of right and wrong is the pinnacle of moral behaviour. In opposition to this some people believe there is no strong evidence that points to a true existence of God, and if there is no God how can his morals be a true set of what is right and wrong. The argument is then that Gods morality is only an interpretation of what is suspected to be true morality.

Those who disagree with religious morality believe that we develop moral insights by objective reality. People reflect on their experiences within the sensing world, and through reason and intuition, develop a sense of moral behaviour and the differences between right and wrong; good and bad. Reason is the ability of people to think. Logic is the ability to evaluate arguments and distinguish good arguments from bad with the reduction of fallacious inferences. In other words, logic is the ability to deduce the preferred argument through evaluation of all arguments and rejecting those with fallacies. In terms of moral judgement, reasoning is thinking about the consequences of the action for the individual, and society as a whole, as well as the action itself, and logically deducing the best course of action. Intuition is a direct vision of rightness and wrongness, without delay, under certain circumstances.

Morality can also be discussed in terms of absolute and relative. Ethical theories like Kant's Categorical Imperative suggest morality needs to be universalized. Determining a right and wrong action must apply to all people in all situations. Theories such as Utilitarianism are more of a relative approach to establishing right and wrong. Utilitarianism says actions must be judged on consequences. Actions producing the greatest number of benefits for the greatest number of people are those that should be chosen. Utilitarianism is relative because what is good for some is not always good for others. In theory, however, it is producing the greatest possible outcome for society which trumps individualistic concerns in the long run.

Overall, the governance of morals on people in society, whether universal or at the cultural/societal level, have a major impact on the welfare of human existence.

The first reason why morals are necessary is to protect society. Belonging to a society and interacting with other individuals imposes obligations on people to act a certain way. To know what is right and what is wrong helps direct people to not harming one another as humans. Obligation also depends on the extent the moral code is agreed upon To illustrate, a highway has many paths to choose from. A person has the option to go on any of the routes it wishes, as does anyone else. However, society imposes, through general consensus, a variety of rules that are in place to protect the public's safety and avoid traffic accidents. Morality is similar to the rules of the road. People have the freedom to do what they want, up to the point of negatively affecting other members of society. Wrong or evil acts usually lead to injury, either emotionally or physically, for one party or another. In other words, morality gives a person the freedom to choose actions that maximize their happiness, and imposes the obligations on society to act in certain behaviours so as to keep people safe from harm.

A resisting argument is the distinction between right and wrong is incalculable. In utilitarianism, it may be necessary for moral codes to discriminate against some people, or unjustly sacrifice one sub-group of people, for the good of the overall group. An example is welfare cuts. Welfare cuts benefit society by increasing disposable income, and economic activity, but often forces poor people further into poverty.

Also, social rules can be in conflict with conscience. If people do not agree with the morals of society, they are looked upon as sinners and misfits in society, reducing the freedom of individuality and self expression.

Even people who do not agree with moral norms, have the choice to obey them or not. If willing to accept consequences, and lobby strongly in support of their opinion, a change in society's overall view may result.

Another reason why morality is necessary is to not only protect people in society today, but in the future. According to Kant, morality must have an equal opportunities maxim that we must treat everyone as an ends and not just as a means. It must be considered that future generations deserve the same opportunities as today, if not better. Indicating what is morally right and wrong, for example, can dictate what we, as an industrialized global economy can abstract from natural resources. If all resources are used to benefit early generations, that means future generations will suffer.

In response, limiting for example, what is right to extract from the earth today, in order to sustain tomorrow, is a restraint on the pursuit of happiness. Sacrificing the use of natural resources for future generations negatively affects the maximum amount of potential happiness today. By acting morally, people are forced to forego pleasure, and this is a direct contradiction to the overall purpose of life, according to Jeremy Benthem's theory of maximizing pleasures and minimizing pains. Reducing what we extract from the earth, because it is morally wrong, could enhance pains such as increased medical problems, heightened poverty etc.

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