Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Morality and Society

"are you saying that it is the consensus of society that makes things right or wrong?"

Morality is a human construct. Does that mean it is meaningless, no. Democratic government is a human construct too. So is the concept of family. So is art. These are all aspects of society and are dependent on how the society at hand defines all these things or includes these things.

Can individuals disagree with the society at large? Certainly, they do all the time. What is quality art? Modern art is under severe criticism by many people. Is the family a nuclear one? Can it have a single mother? Can it have two dads? Is the whole village a family? Do people think democracy is the way to go? I can think of some who disagree.

The same is true for morality. Is there a general consensus about some issues? Murder, yeah that's usually across the board. Theft, typically considered so too. Though there are those with Robin Hood-type ideas. Is abortion immoral? Well, that's a highly contentious issue. What about gay marriage? What about war? What about human rights? What about capital punishment? What about eating meat?

There are some societies who exalt women's rights and some who squirm at the idea. There are societies who consider slavery an abomination, others which don't. There are societies which consider cannibalism just plain disgusting, others not so much. I can go on and on.

The concept of morality is indeed important and an advanced conception of morality is needed for higher societies as the power individuals have to do great harm increases. But the source for morality, apart from inherent empathy, isn't anything but from the societies themselves.

There is inherent morality for things like murder and theft typically because societies which did not have these basics were untenable and had no future. Why would anyone work to produce things if people could just steal them? How could you go to market if you were liable to be killed?

Sorry for such a long response when I could just have said "yes" but it is a bit more complex than that. For societal determination of morality, it is formed by the consensus of the society at large. But there can be as many individual moralities as there are people.

4 comments:

alex said...

"Is there a general consensus about some issues? Murder, yeah that's usually across the board."

What's scary is that a Nazi might define murder exactly as you do: The taking of an innocent life. He just had a different idea of what "innocent" and "life" meant.

"There is inherent morality for things like murder and theft typically because societies which did not have these basics were untenable and had no future."

Typo?

(kindly CC: I have a hard time remembering which link I went to to find your essays.)

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

"What's scary is that a Nazi might define murder exactly as you do: The taking of an innocent life. He just had a different idea of what "innocent" and "life" meant."

For a Nazi, the definition of the word "innocence" is very flexible - as is "human." A morality should at least be rational, I think. Naziism isn't.

"Typo?"

You know what I mean.

alex said...

"A morality should at least be rational, I think."

It seems like you could rewrite your entire essay, substituting in each case the word "rationality" for "morality".

"are you saying that it is the consensus of society that makes things right or wrong?"

It would be interesting to see how you would react if a society (in which you lived) would disagree (lets say with near-unanimity) with your essay's assessment. (CC)

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

"It seems like you could rewrite your entire essay, substituting in each case the word "rationality" for "morality"."

Morality is applied rational empathy.

"It would be interesting to see how you would react if a society (in which you lived) would disagree (lets say with near-unanimity) with your essay's assessment."

Such societies have existed in the past. Almost every theocracy is like that. Of course I would likely heartily disagree with them, but if they weren't doing anything really offensive then it would just be academic.