The Relevance Of Morality
To understand the relevance of morality, we first need to understand the very essence of the word per se. Morality is quite a relative term just like the state of rest or motion. Just as absolute rest or absolute motion cannot be defined similarly there is no such thing known as absolute morality. The word morality has relevance as long as it has a concrete reference. So when someone is normatively judged of being moral or immoral, the question that must immediately follow this judgement should be, “with respect to whom or what?”.
The term “morality” has been defined by the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy:
1. Descriptively as to refer to some codes of conduct put forward by a society or,
a. some other group, such as a religion, or
b. accepted by an individual for his/her own behaviour or
2. Normatively as to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.
But here is the problem with some of the morality references mentioned above. Firstly, the reference used to define morality is a society, group or a religion. There are quite a lot of distinct groups and faiths in the world and the ideologies that form the basis of these groups and faiths are so diverse that the same act is called manslaughter by one faith and human sacrifice by other. While one faith cherishes non-vegetarian feasts, the other extends the doctrine of non-violence even to inanimate objects like stones. As such, it is nearly impossible to come up with a complete moral code that can appease all the members of a community as diverse as ours.
Secondly, all these faiths and groups were initially started and practised by a handful (or sometimes just one person) of like-minded individuals which over the course of time acquired many aficionados. So actually when we say that we are adhering to the views of different groups, we are actually adhering to the views of different individuals whose only edge over us is that they happened to exist long before us.
Lastly, the course of action a person takes is decided by innumerable complicated circumstances, fuelled by a plethora of conflicting emotions. So something as simple as sheer rationality or logic is not enough to judge whether a person is immoral or moral.
So ultimately, a person himself is the best judge of his morality. A word like ‘Morality’ has borne into existence only due to the fact that since time immemorial, the deeds of men bolstered by various causes like self-interest, religion or sometimes even utilitarianism has been conflicting with his conscience. We all have our moral compasses and its range varies a lot from person to person. The moment you have second doubts about something you did, that is when you hit the limit of your morality. Essentially, the moment you think that there is a need to convince yourself to justify the course of action you took, that’s when you should realise that you did something that is immoral even in your eyes. A very easy way of testing your own moral compass is observing your behaviour when you encounter a financial error in your favour. You go and have lunch at a restaurant and when you ask for the bill, you find that the amount is considerably less than it should have been, clearly a result of an accounting error. Do you get the error corrected or do you thank your lucky stars and walk away? Now there can be four outcomes to the above situation:
- You get the error corrected and feel good about it later.
- You have this momentary urge of doing the right thing and so you get the error corrected but later you feel that you should have pocketed the extra cash instead.
- You don’t get the error corrected and you don’t have second doubts about it.
- You don’t get the error corrected but later you feel bad about your actions.
The importance of morality can clearly be seen above. Person A is an idealist whose moral compass points due north. He did the right thing and he is happy with what he did. Person D comes next in the race of high sense of morality. Though he didn’t do the right thing, his morality fills him with a sense of guilt that to some extent will prevent him from doing it again. Now one might argue that Person C has the least sense of morality but it’s actually Person B. For Person C, it was wishful coincidence coupled with a low sense of morality. But Person B is actually having second thoughts about doing something right. The next time something like this happens to him, he is bound to take advantage of it. If it doesn’t happen then there is little chance that he may even try something immoral to make up for the last time. Difference in the morality of individuals is what caused different outcomes and shaped future outcomes in the event of such a thing happening.
To sum it all up, consider a person’s mind as the king and his morality as an advisor to the king. The advisor will always offer an opinion, which he thinks is fit, to the king but eventually it is up to the king to decide how far is he willing to go forth with the advisor’s opinion. He may choose to take his advice to the core or he may neglect it outright. There are people whose morality will cause them to feel remorseful even if they hurt a dog by accident and then there are those who have flipped the switch and turned off their morality which enables them to engage in serial killings and cannibalism and still not feel a thing.
So the answer to the question posed above, “How relevant is morality?” is that it can change lives on some occasions and prove to be worthless on others. In other words, it is as relevant as we allow it to be.