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The Definition of Morality and Ethics

Most people think they understand morality and ethics. For instance, if you ask a common person to define morals and ethical behavior, they will most likely define these terms as being right and good versus being evil and bad. Well, this response is basically circular logic, because these terms mean identically the same thing without any added explanation of what constitutes good or moral behavior. When asked for further details of these definitions, the common man is typically unable to specify exactly WHAT is good, right, moral, and ethical. However, this will most likely result in a discussion of examples of both ethical and unethical behavior without specifically defining these terms.

This is because ethics and morality is not something that the common person thinks about often. So, morality and ethics are vague for most people. Furthermore, morality and ethics are subjective for each person too. As a result, morality and ethics have a very wide range of possible definitions and examples.

I think that most people and dictionaries would probably agree with my personal definition of morality and ethics. I believe that morality is defined as the principles of ethical behavior deemed by society, culture, family, education, and religion. Yes, this definition is still somewhat vague, yet it is less vague than all of the definitions I've heard of so far.

My definition brings out two interesting facts about morality and ethics. First as I once wrote in a previous article, "since each person is raised differently with very diverse experiences, each person has a unique definition of morality and ethical beliefs." Additionally, since society is continuously changing their viewpoints and technological capabilities, I think ethics and morality are also changing accordingly, even if organizations such as religions try to make people believe that morality is constant. Basically, society changes whether we want it to or not. This is further proof that ethics and morality are and will always be imprecise, thus not truly definable.

Western philosophy has been debating ethics and morality for thousands of years and still has not formalized a definition for them, so how can anyone truly understand them? Furthermore, if the greatest philosophers throughout history have been debating ethics and morality, how can the common man truly understand it? Therefore, I don't think we regular folks have a chance at truly understanding ethics and morals.

Yet, the common man still believes that they understand morality. Even those people who think they are very ethical are actually deceiving themselves, because no one can truly know what ethical really is. Thus, they can not possibly be ethical, at least in everyone's opinions. Even people from any groups, such as Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, atheists, politicians, judges, common man, etc., can not know what is really ethical and moral. Therefore, it is only logical that no group of people, whether religious, atheist, political, or common, can lay claim of understanding morality completely, because it is so not well understood and unknown.

On the other hand, people believe they are ethical according to their personal/internal definitions of morality instead of a shared common definition. This may sound like playing with the syntax of words, but I think it has a much deeper meaning.

The main problem with this belief is that religious folks justify their morality from religious books and teaching, while non-religious folks justify their morality on logic and/or the beliefs that they were raised and educated with. As long as people continue justifying their morals on differing standards, there will always be conflict and strife. And where strife exists, humanity’s problems will exist too.

by Phil for Humanity
on 07/02/2008

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