Morality & Ethics

Morality is a system of conduct and beliefs which guides humankind in the customs, taboos and cultural norms within a society. While the moral codes of one society may differ from those of another, there is considerable overlap in the moral ideals and imperatives of most civilised societies.



For example, compassion, care, consideration, kindness, trustworthiness & honesty are valid moral principles in most societies, whilst murder, deceit, greediness and violence are moral taboos in most.   Many philosophers and moral thinkers use the terms morality and ethics almost interchangeably, but for those who use the terms differently, moral principles arise from the everyday working out of situations that will result in harmony. Honesty and sharing are morally good because they work well within most societies, most of the time.

On the other hand, ethics takes a more cerebral approach in determining which principles are the best ones to follow. Ethics seeks out more abstract universal principles such as justice, truth and equity, while morals are more concerned with the everyday codes and rules which are necessary in establishing and maintaining the harmony in societies.

In simpler terms, morality comes into play in society in the practical day to day choices we make when we deal with other people. On the other hand, the pursuit of ethical principles is frequently the concern of theologians and philosophers who tend to think about such values in more abstract terms. However, in the end, these differences are sometimes more matters of approach than substance. The moral system of the 18th Century philosopher Immanuel Kant emphasised duty, responsibility and obligation, a view that ties in well with the moral codes of traditional religions which also emphasise duty, sanctions and rewards. Kant's view concerning his categorical imperative also closely paralled the 'Golden Rule', which is at the heart of most world religions and beliefs. Religious believers, rather than concentrating on a strictly cerebral quest for higher ethical principles of justice, equity and truth, are often encouraged to look to God through scriptures or prayers to guide them in finding good morals.

A more secular view of morals can be found in some philosophies such as Utilitarianism, Pragmatism and Humanism. The goal of these 3 is to bring about the greatest social harmony, the greatest happiness or the greatest good and well-being in a society. The emphasis is to arrive at good moral behaviours by observing and practicing those actions which are of benefit to society. Humanists believe that whilst sacred scriptures can guide people in moral principles, such scriptures can sometimes be divisive and destructive, as in the case of that which justifies holy wars, rejection of blood transfusions in saving lives, or the belief that God favours one religion or ethnic group over others. So whilst sacred scriptures are a guide to moral behaviour, religious believers need also be aware that too literal or too narrow an interpretation of scripture can result in immoral behaviour leading to extremism.

One of the great gifts we have as humans is our ability to reflect upon our own human condition and to use our own free will to make choices about our actions. The wise use of free will also carries individual responsibilities which we share with others. Humanists take this moral responsibility conscientously. We have a moral obligation to consider how our actions and choices affect the planet and our fellow human beings. For both religious and non-religious people in a  secular paradigm, problems such as climate change, poverty, pollution, starvation or avoiding war can be understood and may often be addressed through respect for scientific knowledge and a caring attitude towards all races, religions and beliefs.

A good start in following moral principles is the recognition that the problems of others are our problems as well. In the end, it is respectful to realise that we are after all, together in this search  for moral harmony.