April's Discussion Topic: What Defines Morality?


The million-dollar question that every philosopher has attempted to answer, and now it is your turn. Share your thoughts with us, in 100-200 words, on the nature of morality and why it is an exclusively human phenomenon.

Moral rules are humanity’s attempt at self-preservation. The classic “Thou shalt not kill” is a good example. Our innate (or is it?) sense of good and bad may tell us killing another fellow human being is against our nature, but there is nothing stopping us from committing the act until it has been turned into a moral standard and sanctioned by (religious) authority. The laws dictating our behaviour are a direct reflection of the moral beasts that we are.

Though it would be unwise to dispense with moral rules altogether, it is necessary for us as thinking beings to be aware of the artificiality of moral rules. They are artificial because they are man-made (as opposed to divinity-inspired) and thus subject to change and manipulation. Cultures across the world may share certain moral rules (I can’t think of a culture which deems adultery morally acceptable), but it must be said that for every commonly shared moral rule, there are at least ten others which are culturally specific. Polygamy is not always the reprehensible practice that some cultures portray it to be. Homosexuality/bisexuality is generally accepted (or at least tolerated) in cultures which acknowledge the complexity of human sexuality. Aborting a foetus is not always the fire-and-brimstone sin that less tolerant societies say it is.

Morality becomes a problem when it trickles down from the top to the lowly individual and begins to dictate how that individual should act, think and live. This will deprive the individual of the right to be himself and to decide for himself what is right or wrong. In some Asian cultures, for example, it is considered “morally desirable” for a son or daughter to marry and produce a procession of children for the sake of the family’s bloodline. Anyone who does not comply is deemed “disrespectful” and “unfilial”. This, I feel, is a moral code that encroaches upon the rights of the individual.

Morality also tends to be (mis)used as a tool for judging others. Having moral codes suggests that everyone in that particular community must adhere to the way the game is played. As soon as someone fails to do so, he can easily be apprehended for non-compliance. The individual is duly judged and marginalised, without being given a chance to explain his stance. Morality is only concerned with black and white, not grey. In the eyes of a moralist, everything must either be right or wrong. There is not such a thing as “possibly right”. This is the crux of morality’s problem, as we know that life is nothing but grey areas.

Morality becomes an even greater problem when it is approached from a religious point of view. When God is brought into the question, all nuances go out the window. All religious leaders have to say is: God says it is wrong, so who are you to say it is right? No discourses are possible when the will of God is the final word. Some may argue that morality is God’s creation. There is a flaw in this reasoning, for it should not surprise anyone that even an atheist may think stealing another man’s wife is morally unacceptable.
Edward Ong

Basically, morality means good acts or deeds. However, after asking my close friends, I have realised that there are nuances to it. The differences are in the sense of adopting the values of morality in our routines. This does not show that we don’t really know what morality is all about or we don’t practise it because there are several factors which influence our method in adopting the values.

Firstly, our lives’ routines can never be separated from our culture. Every place has a unique culture which people practise, and the culture influences their minds and thoughts. Zorro, which is a famous film, depicts the culture in western countries which accept the act of stealing or robbery if one wants to assist hapless people. However, in Malaysia, for example, all citizens do not accept this idea and decline it as a norm. In Malaysian culture, properties belong to their owners, and no one should rob anyone for benevolence. Hence, the culture that people practise determines whether the action is moral or immoral.

Human civilisation is a fundamental of thoughts. Over the years, it is proven that civilisation has evolved, and as a result, humans’ attitudes towards certain subjects have also changed. Indirectly, this revolution alters our understanding of moral values. For example, in the past few decades, the concept of homosexuality has been considered uncivilised. People condemned this idea and boycotted people who embraced the thought. Nevertheless, civilisation has spun our thoughts on it, and today people can accept it as a moral act from the aspect of human rights.

In conclusion, morality is very subjective as several factors tend to affect our understanding of it.
Afandi Bin Suhaimi

Morality is an ambiguous term. It might be the good and the evil one. Good and evil are subjective. It is possible that we humans just created them. However, bad or good actions are situational. Rationalism is the definitive moral guide for me. Rationalism is “any view appealing to reason as source of knowledge or justification”.

For example, regular people may argue that abortion is a bad action because it is a murder whereas rationalists may argue that it is a rational action. Teenage pregnancy is a big problem now. A teenager may choose whether she should go on with the pregnancy, be a young mother or have an abortion and move on with the normal life. Sometimes if the teen is diagnosed pregnant, she may panic and think that she cannot deal with the child. Abortion is a good path to take since the teen is still in high school studying. The teen might need to drop out of high school when her pregnancy starts to show. Raising a child is not an easy thing. Child abuse may occur if good parenting skills are neglected. Therefore, abortion would be the best option to take to not to deal with the problem at all.
Fazlin Fuad Mohamad Faiz

If someone asks me to define morality, I am sure I will take a long time to answer this controversial question. Religions are the responsible force that determines the level of morality. They claim that society’s normal, rational morality is some absolute handed down from God. Things have eventually changed. Now there are many atheists as well in this world. This leads to a different understanding of morality as it is now thought that some immoral acts are actually logical, depending on the situation.

In my opinion, I would say that morality depends on our common sense. Yes, it might be true that religions also play a big role in determining morality, but then we cannot simply follow the rules given without any rational explanation. Morality is a specific, personal, individual issue, and impossible in the universal sense, when interpreted by various people and cultures. I will give an example that shows we are the ones that define morality, not others. In love, for example, women are prone to cheating compared to men. Why do women cheat and is it wrong for us to cheat? (considering myself to be one of the women). The reason for us to do so is that we like the thrill of the forbidden escape that we get from mundane relationships, not that we want to betray men. Unfortunately, for some people, they assume this kind of act as immoral. They think, as women, we should behave and be loyal to our partner. What makes it worse is when the woman is in a community that practises gender inequality; they assume that men are far better than women are. If a woman cheats on her partner, definitely people will assume that she is a slut, which is unfair to the woman as people around her do not know the real reason why she has done so.

In conclusion, I can say that it depends on us to define morality. No one can say that what we do is wrong or right. As for me, any moral decision I make is based on my own morals, and I know that my morals may not always necessarily tie in with general morality. Life is great, enjoy it. Do not care about what others think 
Sheril Emy Idayu Abdul Latiff

Morality can be found when a person behaves according to logic rather than his emotion. Morality can be seen clearly when a person is dealing with a difficult situation, whether he will use his head or his heart. In my humble opinion, when a person with high morality deals with a difficult situation, he would be true to himself as well as to other people. Morality prevents you from lying, even to save your own skin. A person with high morality will be trusted and respected.

As actions speak louder than words, action will determine the morality of a person. Let’s take into consideration a person who asks another person to throw out rubbish for him, and a person who actually throws his own rubbish into the dustbin himself. I will personally say that the second person is more “moral” than the first person.

Some examples of immoral behaviour are lying, throwing rubbish on the street, spitting on the pavement near someone’s feet and so on. It is good if you advise other people to throw rubbish into the bin, and to knock on the door before entering. But it is highly immoral if you only advise other people without you, yourself, listening to your own advice.
Zuraida Bt. Din

Morality has existed since the beginning of time but no one can find a conclusive definition for it. The depth and breadth of morality has been defined differently by different people based on their cultural, religious customs and perceptions. Based on Wikipedia’s definition, morality refers to personal or cultural values, codes of conduct or social mores that distinguish between right and wrong in society. Eventually, there are no right or wrong answers in defining morality. This is because when someone defines a subject as moral, other people may not necessarily define it as such. Culture and religion also influence people in interpreting the definition of morality.

For example, the introduction of weaponry at the very basic level has no moral issue if it is meant to be used by the arm forces to protect the country. However, weaponry is misused by certain people as a medium to attack human beings without any reasons. Similarly, the production of drugs is vital to everyone’s daily life as it helps to cure illnesses. Even one Panadol is enough to heal one’s fever in a short time period. Unfortunately, the misuse of drugs has led to several issues, including death, when one uses drugs for different reasons. Though most people know that the misuse of drugs will actually lead to death, they could not do anything as they are already addicted to them.

Another immoral activity is when people misunderstand the meaning of fashion. They see fashion as an essential issue living in the 21st century. As we all know, fashion designers are allowed to use fur to make clothes more fashionable. Regrettably, they tend to go overboard by increasing the use of fur in fashion as it will cause extinction to the animals. If this happens, will our next generations have the opportunity to see all the unique creations and learn to appreciate them? This again begs the question as to what is defined as moral or otherwise.
Fatin Shazea



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