What makes something moral or amoral?
I feel like we've had this discussion a million times on Think Atheist in some way shape or form. I should know the answer already. Without a holy book to tell me what to do or how to act I do feel pretty.....lost.
Can I admit that out loud? Yes I feel lost. I feel pulled in many directions on a number of issues and I really don't know how to resolve this turmoil.
So my question is really that simple:
What makes something moral or amoral?
Replies are closed for this discussion.
You're right, Belle, I've also seen this discussion many times on TA. The various responses from posters who seem to be more informed than you or I should probably tell us that the reason we don't know the answer is because it is a difficult, grey-area type problem. If you are looking for something as simple as a check-sheet for what is moral or not, I fear that may actually be impossible.
This sounds a bit depressing - as if there is no answer - but this isn't quite the case. When there is not an easy answer to something there is still an answer. It just means we have to work harder to find it out. In the case of morals I feel that individual cases can only really be resolved by examining them individually rather than from a generic check sheet like the Ten Commandments.
If you want examples of problems that don't conform to our normal idea of what's moral ask @Unseen. He is the king of coming up with examples that don't fit the mold. They are normally good examples, too.
The Star Trek original series episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" is a great example of a seemingly moral present-moment action having a profound negative effect on the course of human progress.
It is extra super extremely mega unlikely that there is any answer to "what is moral" encoded in or part of the universe. Through this principle alone you can call bullshit on most religions (especially Christianity, Islam and Judaism).
It's up to us to work it out...and it's up to you to deal with much of it yourself...as the answers are not waiting for you anywhere outside your mind. You live in an open society and one that grants you incredible freedom to act, discuss, express, think, provoke, decide etc.
Deontological moral systems have worked well for me. Most deontological systems don't tell you what is moral but instead evaluate the strength of moral statements and how to analyse to what extent a moral action holds up to one's own moral statements (how consistent their actions are, how little one makes exceptions to the moral statement, to what degree does it agree with the moral statement etc). You decide your own imperatives and you decide whether to uphold them regardless of the circumstances. The broader the imperative the more praiseworthy it is. Having a smaller quantity of broad moral statements is far more praiseworthy than having tons of extra specific ones. Your moral statements should be upheld as much as possible. If you make an exception you should admit that you are doing so arbitrarily and you should be prepared to accept anyone else doing the same. The more exceptions you make, the weaker your moral statement is.
There are several variations in deontological moral systems (some give less flexibility in making up one's own imperatives, other's demand that you assume or wish that other's had the same principles, other's say nothing about how broad one's principles are).
If that doesn't gel with you...there are so many other moral systems to explore. Have you covered utilitarian morality? Virtue ethics? Consequentialism? Justice theory? Altruism? Egotism?
If you're still lost...you can always wing it. That's what just about everyone's been doing for just about forever.
If you do decide to wing it (or even if you don't) I think this guiding line should help a lot:
Don't be a dick.
However, there are perceptual/cognitive patterns, emotional triggers, and so forth, encoded in the human brain through evolution. Empathy is a hard-coded development (happens around 1 year of age, when a child starts to grasp that there is an Other in the other). Territoriality, tribalism, some forms of altruism ... all have roots in the way the midbrain interacts with the cerebrum. So although there is no cosmic source of universal morality, there certainly are cross-cultural moral patterns based on evolutionary biology. If we had evolved from hive-mind creatures who reproduce through mitosis, our moral compasses would be correspondingly different.
We've answered this stupid question more than enough times Dr. Bob. It's starting to get a little offensive to be honest.
If you are seriously interested in what we think and why this question is an interesting one...go back and read the several forums where you've asked this question and actually read the many many responses given. Or you can do the utter minimum of homework and actually read a book on moral systems/history of ethics...even if it's a short anthology or Ethics for Dummies.
Dr Bob is yanking on your dingaling.
Hmm. Is that a moral act?
It sure is. Does it benefit you or harm you?
I just don't know enough about Dr. Bob...and to be honest...I just don't know enough about my dingaling. So I'll have to say... "it depends".