Friday, March 20, 2009


Often when people talk about various issues, this word often comes up - Morality

What is it?, and what do people mean when they use the word?

I will give a nominal definiton/description, and after that, we will see where w can go from there.

Morality is categorical, universal, normative, authoratative and inescapable.

Normative - Here all I'm saying is that morality talks about oughts. e.g., we ought to do X or we should not do Y.
This is opposed to descriptives like the cat is black, the night is dark.

Categorical - We should do it no matter what. For example, We ought not to kill innocents for our pleasure
This is opposed to hypothetical which is merely conditional e.g. If we want to eat a sandwhich, I should get off my butt and make one, or, If I want to make a good impression, I ought to dress neatly. It doesn't make sense to say: If we want to be good people we ought not to kill innocents. Does this mean that if we do not care about being good people, it is ok to kill innocents?

Universal - This means that the rule is correct for all people.
Instead of the rule being correct only for Jews, or Indians or Chinese or Americans, or Germans or Males etc.

Inescapable - This means that we cannot escape the duties that morality imposes on us. If we say something is wrong, it means that we ought not to do it, and we are making a mistake if we do it

Authoratative - This would be that moral statements have authority. It is arguable whether moral statements have the most authority. But at the very least, we should give them some significant weightage in our deliberations.

The above should be true for any moral theory, whether it is consequentialist, or deontological ethics. Whether moral properties, as I described them above, exist is another question.

The above may be fairly crude, so lets see if we can refine it. Please comment.


  1. I disagree.

    Morality is relative, never objective. One man's immorality is another man's virtue.

    Read Nietzsche. He had dedicated almost his entire career writing on moral philosophy.

  2. I will admit that I have only read Nietzhe's antichrist. As far as I can tell, when he was talking about morality, he was talking about sexual mores. (Though there was one part where he was talking about 'slave morality'). Its been some time. Chen, could you please elaborate on how Nietszhe's argument works?

    I'm still working my way through Kant. So far, Kant makes a very good case for morality. While we could dispute some of his specific conclusions, I think that his framework for morality is spot on.

    There are two things to dispute here. One, is a semantic claim. Very often, when people talk about morality, they mean smething which has the properties that I described above. However, if Nietszhe claims that morality does not have those properties, I propose that we take it to mean that there are no moral properties like what I described above. i.e, in the context, we say that Nietzhe meant that morality was just an illusion or something.

    However, we have some commonsense notions that certain things are always wrong. For example, we know that it is always wrong to torture innocent children for your own pleasure. In order to successfully make the claim that there is no morality, you must develop a strong error theory as to why we should doubt the existence of morality, and why we come to believe that morality has those properties that it has.