- Morals are beliefs of an individual or a group regarding what is right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable. While they do prescribe what the right conduct is, morality is ultimately a personal compass, a personal choice.
- Think of religion, say Jainism, which has its five principles (Truth (Satya), Non-Violence (Ahimsa), Non-stealing (Asteya), Celibacy (Brahmacharya) and Non-attachment (aparigraha)) that act as moral guides for people following Jainism.
- However, it is ultimately the individual choice of which morals they actually follow or use to judge the rightness or wrongness of an action.
- Hence, morals are the principles of right behaviour that we use to judge human character's goodness or badness.
- Morals are the prevailing standards of behaviour that enable people to live cooperatively in groups. Most people tend to act morally and follow societal guidelines. Those who are indifferent to right or wrong are called amoral, while those who do evil acts are called immoral.
- Morals may change over time. Historically, religion has been an important source of morals. With new knowledge, a person's morals may change.
- For example, homosexuality - an act still considered unnatural and immoral-is gaining more acceptance throughout the world. Some morals transcend time and cultures.
- For example, selfishness is considered immoral, whereas loyalty and telling the truth are considered moral.
- Note that since morals are generally an individual choice, they lack objectivity. As such, morals do not guarantee consistent action. Actual behaviour or a person may deviate from his/her morals. The objective here means consistency in action.
- There can be different choices in different contexts - a person may consider cheating as immoral but may cheat in an exam given the opportunity. Hence morals are those beliefs that are considered right but are not necessarily reproduced in action. What is morally correct may not be objectively accurate.
Ethics and Morality
- Ethics and morality seem to carry the same meaning and they are generally used interchangeably. However, some philosophers make a distinction between the two.
- Ethics differs from morals and morality in that ethics denotes the theory of right action and the greater good, while morals indicate their practice at the individual level. Ethics is the science of morals. Morals are the practice of ethics.
- Elaboration: Consider science. Science is not there in nature in a systematized form. It has to be derived based on observations and practice.
- Once scientific study has been done and results arrived at, they are subjected to tests in the real world. Once it gets established, it is prescribed as the correct way to go about doing things, such as constructing a multistory building based on physics principles.
- Ethics is where one studies about moral principles. Morals are the practice of this knowledge. Ethics thus govern the conduct of all the members of a group (such as doctors, lawyers, policemen, cultural group or society). Morals are those standards which the individual sets up for himself/herself.
- Both ethics and morals may be embodied in conduct rules, which may have the force of law. Otherwise, morality means individual propositions and is subjective by nature as it varies from person to person while ethics are collective propositions of society and thus are more objective compared to morality.
- Morals are principles which help guide a person about rightness or wrongness of an act. Ethics are principles of right conduct -i.e. what should be the right way to act in a situation. The difference clearly comes out in the classic case of a defense lawyer.
- A lawyer may consider murder to be a reprehensible act, deserving severe punishment. But a defense attorney has to be unbiased and her professional ethics require her to defend the client to the best of her abilities, even if she knows that the client is guilty.
- Even a terrorist, deserves a fair trial in a court of law, not a kangaroo court or mob justice.
- The broader rules can inform an individual's morals of ethics. Believing th at theft is wrong may stem from the ethical principle of respect of others' private property.
- Take example of a civil servant being involved in two different illegal acts. Taking bribe for doing his/her duty is a crime under Prevention of Corruption Act. It is also a violation civil service ethics.
- On the other hand, being involved in a relationship outside marriage, which is punishable under Adultery laws, is a moral lapse. Similarly, consider a police officer who indulges in consumption of drugs. Society considers such person to be of weak morals.
- Further, it is unethical to be inebriated if one is responsible for maintaining law and order. Moreover, suppressing the department's information about his involvement in such activities will also be a breach of departmental ethics. Finally, it is also illegal to consume banned substances under the law.
Another example: A society may believe in a certain code of conduct i.e. ethics for its members. One individual may agree or disagree with some codes. For example, one might personally believe in absolute, unhindered free speech. On the other hand, the society might believe that defaming religious or national icons/symbols is wrong. According to society, an individual who defames religious icons may act morally according to himself but is acting unethically.
On the other hand, there was nothing unethical about slavery; in fact it was considered a measure of prestige. Today, it is abolished and is considered abhorrent, but it was an accepted way of life back then. But an individual's morals may have led him to treat his slaves humanely. Also, one could have personally considered slavery as wrong, but his thoughts would probably draw society's ire.