Trying to Understand Ethics, Law and Morals
Ethics are, according to the dictionary, “ideas of right and wrong; the philosophical study of moral values and rules”. But what does that mean in a modern day society?
Everyone is interested in ethics. We all have our own ideas about what is right and what is wrong and we can tell the difference.
In the UK conservatives (both big and small “c”) have said things such as;
“The country is in a state of moral decline and there is no respect for authority anymore”
“We must get back to basics”
Do these words mean anything at all? Or are they just empty “values” we hold close to us because society has programmed us to?
What should be the moral standing of countries, societies or communities?
Are there any differences between society’s laws and our own moral laws? If so then why?
Are some communities or individuals “better” at morality than others, or are they all capable of being “good”?
Does anyone have the right to tell others what is “good” and what is “wicked”?
What do you think the best answer is to the question “why should I be a good person”?
Communitarian or Individualists?
Ethics is complicated because our morality is an odd mixture of received tradition and personal opinion.
But philosophers on both sides will not put anymore weight in their words when discussing ethics than “club rules gathered and agreed upon by members”.
The question you have to pose yourself is this; is it the fault of the society or of the individual as to where they draw their “moral line”?
It seems very unlikely that a society has or would ever exist where the unmotivated murder of another would be acceptable because, although the odd serial killer does appear in the fabric of society, murder is universally unacceptable. Yet in medieval Europe executions were considered public entertainment. So where, and how, do we draw the line?
the roots of morality?
Most people living in western Christian societies would say that they base their ethical beliefs and behaviour on the Ten Commandments. Also they have the “golden” rule; always treat others as you would like them to treat you. This rule is also found in many other religions.
Is religion where morality comes from? Is being moral simply a matter of obeying commands you believe to be divine?
However, history has shown us that people can be completely unmoral while believing they are moral because they follow who they believe to be higher than them.
Others believe that there is more to morality than blindly following orders. In modern society that seems to be the opinion of the majority of people.
So is it society’s fault?
Most people like to flatter themselves that they choose to do good acts rather than being “programmed” to do them. So perhaps society has very little to do with the fundamental moral foundations of our characters? It may in fact be responsible for many of the evils of mankind.
Its all up to you...
Men may kill other men in different uniforms because society encourages them to do so, but their genetic instincts might be to do things like play rugby and drink beer with each other.
Or maybe men chose to kill each other over emotive issues. But does that make them “evil” or just weak minded?
It could be they both believe they hold the moral high ground.
Many factors influence how we behaviour towards one another, what we believe is right wrong is all different and will vary from individual to individual, form society to society and from religion to religion.
Socrates believed that the most important thing about human beings is that they ask questions. He also said that real moral knowledge existed and was worth pursuing for its own sake.