Why Be Moral?
A good way we might begin ethics is to ask the question, “Why be moral? Why should we live a moral kind of life?”; in order to understand tat question, we first need to understand what the question is asking. When asking the question, “Why be moral?”, one can notice the question itself is somewhat vague and ambiguous, and so we need to make some important distinctions. There are two distinctions that need to be made prior to understanding exactly what is being asked with the question “Why be moral?”
The first distinction is to distinguish between motive and justification. My motive has to do with why I am doing something; the justification behind it has to do with why it is the right things to do. Sometimes we tend to conflate justification and motive – we bring them together as if they are the same thing, but they really are not. When asking the question “Why be moral?”, the answer doesn’t consist of your motive behind it since your motive could be all sorts of reasons. You’re moral because you don’t want people to think ill of you, you want people to think well of you, so you live a moral life in front of them, or you are moral because you think God will think good of you; those are all good reasons for the movie, but what is being asked in the question “Why be moral?” is asking more for the justification. The questions “Why is being moral the right way to live? Why is that the right thing to do?” are different questions than a motive question.
Another distinction that needs to made is between specific actions and the moral point of view; again, the question itself is somewhat vague. One could be asking why the particular action that one is doing is the morally right or wrong thing to do here; in other words, I could be asking you about a specific action like “Why is it morally right to do this as opposed to doing that?”, and that’s not really what needs to be done here. What needs to be done here is asking the question of why are you adopting what we call the moral point of view, and why is that the right thing to adopt? To understand the previously stated questions, we need to know what I mean by the moral point of view.
The moral point of view is basically an approach to life that involves at least four basic elements. The moral point of view is to subscribe to normative judgments about actions, principles, and motives. Normative judgment is simply a judgment of right and wrong. When we say we adopt the moral point of view, we certainly recognize that certain actions are right and certain actions are wrong; we’re going to make judgments about that, or certain principles or certain motives behind what people do are right or wrong, and we make those kinds of judgments. The first aspect of the moral point of view is that we make judgments – normative judgments, value judgments – about actions, principles, and motives. The second part of the moral point of view is to universalize judgments concerning morally relevant similar situations. When I say something is right or wrong, I’m not saying it is only right or wrong for me; I’m saying it’s right or wrong for everybody in this particular situation to have done that. If it’s wrong for me to rob or mug somebody, it’s for everybody to rob or mug somebody; that’s what it means to universalize.
What is meant by morally relevant similar situations is that it’s morally wrong for everybody to do it – not just me; but we do universalize our judgments concerning morally relevant similar situations. A third aspect of the moral point of view is to formulate ethical views in a free, impartial and enlightened way; what we mean by this is that we have an obligation to make sure our ethical view that we hold is freely formed – that we are not forced to take this view. The fourth aspect of the moral point of view is what we call the Synderesis Rule. The words synderesis comes out of the Middle Ages, and it means “to promote the good and to avoid the evil”. Synderesis rule is the first principle behind all morality. We recognize that morality is about promoting that which is good and avoiding that which is evil; we certainly strive to do that in a moral point of view.
The moral point of view involves these four basic elements: (1) to subscribe to normative judgments about actions, principles, and motives; (2) to universalize judgments concerning morally relevant similar situations; (3) to formulate ethical views in a free, impartial and enlightened way; and (4) to follow the Synderesis Rule to promote the good and to avoid evil. I could be a relativist and say there is no morality out there; I won’t make any moral judgments about anybody and I will allow life to go on where you do what you want to do, and I will do what I want to do. Most people have adopted the relativist moral point of view. There are three general answers to the question as to why someone should be moral.
The first answer to why someone should be moral is the consequentialistic answer: we should be moral because it achieves the best results. Many people think morality is about achieving the best results, and it is about achieving good results, and being moral will help us achieve those results. We are moral because we want to achieve the best consequences we can achieve; this method is called Consequentialistic Ethics, and it has resulted in a number of theories. Two of the most important theories that resulted from Consequentialistic Ethics are (1) egoism, which is concerned with the best results for me, and (2) utilitarianism, which is concerned for the best results for everyone else. Utilitarianism is moral because it will achieve the best results for everybody involved. Utilitarianism is probably the most popular theory in our Western society; most people tend to think this way. In utilitarianism, you do that which is best for the majority of people to make them as happy and fulfilled as you possibly can. Consequentialistic Ethics says we should be moral because it achieves the best results.
Deontological ethics, which is a method for doing ethics, says that we should be moral because it is right in and of itself. Deontological ethics don’t look at something outside of itself, like consequences, to determine what is right or wrong. Deontological ethics says that some things are right and some things are wrong, and we should do the right things because they are right. According to deontological ethics, we have a duty to do which is right, and a number of theories come out of this which are differentiated by where they get their ethical rules from or moral rules from. The Divine Command Theory of deontological ethics says our moral rules come from the divine commands of God, and that is how we determine what is right and what is wrong; we follow them because they are from God and they are right. The Natural Law Theory of deontological ethics says that our moral rules come from examining within ourselves and our human nature will tell us what is right and what is wrong; our human nature is a reflection of the nature of God, we are all created in the image of God, and therefore, in an indirect way, this also appeals to God for where our moral rules come from. The Kantian Duty-Based theory of deontological ethics argues that reason is how we arrive at our moral rules; we use reason, and that which is irrational or unreasonable is something that is wrong to do, and that’s what Kant will say in his duty-based theory. All of the deontological ethics want to say that we do things because they are right, in and of themselves, and not because of results. The methods of Consequentialistic Ethics and Deontological Ethics are the most heavily competing methods.
A third answers to the question as to why humans should be moral has become very predominant in ethics and it is called Aretaic Ethics, which says we should be moral because that is the kind of person we want to be. Aretaic Ethics is where virtue ethics come from. Virtue-based ethical theories want to say that we’ve misplaced the debate and that we are always talking about what we should do, what is the right thing to do; but what we should really be talking of in ethics is what is the right kind of person to be. According to virtue-based ethical theories, if we are the right kind of person, then what we do and the results will all flow out of who we are.In Aretaic Ethics, the most important questions is “what kind of person do I want to be?” and that is how I determine what is right or what is wrong. A way that we can examine the previously stated question is to note that there are three elements to every moral event; you have a person who performs an action that has a result. Person, action and result; those are the three elements involved in every moral event. The question most want to ask is, “Where is the good in this event?”; we recognize that morality is all about achieving the good, but what needs to be distinguished is exactly where the good is located. Some locate the good in the consequences; they say that morality is all about achieving good consequences, and we do that which achieves the good. Some would argue that good is located in the action itself – that some actions are right and some actions are wrong; we do the good when we perform the right action and that is doing good in and of itself and those are our deontologists. Finally, there are some who argue that the good is in the person; it is the person that is good, and if we have good persons, good persons will do good actions that will have good results and therefore, we should be concentrating on our persons, and those are our virtue ethics theories.