Morality, the differentiation of intentions, actions and decisions, a body of standards and principles, what one should and shouldn’t do, what’s good or bad, or simply what is right or wrong. Morality can refer to one’s moral standards in behaviour, moral conscience and moral actions. Because there is no scientific instrument or scale that measures moral rightness or wrongness, it is ultimately the person who has to decide what’s reasonable to believe. Thus, morality becomes a foundation of one’s actions.
To have a sense of morality, one must have gone through moral development. Moral development is a focus on the emergence, change, and understanding of morality from infancy through adulthood. But, is part of one’s morality already innate? Or is one simply a blank canvas which their environment and society paint on?
One’s opinions: a set of beliefs and judgements on a specific topic or issue, can also come to form, change or “update” our morality over time.
Although, it is also possible that the correlation between opinion and morality exist as one’s opinions could have been formed as a product of one’s morality. More often, one’s opinions can act as a trigger — something that can be attached as a label to nearly any moral decision and instantly make it stronger. People often have strong and stubborn beliefs about what’s right and wrong that can be in direct contrast to the moral beliefs of others, and one will find that something may be right or wrong for themselves, but not for someone else with a set of different opinions.
A more colloquial example, one may think that it’s okay to lie to a friend about their plans to prepare a secret birthday party, while another may think that it’s absolutely wrong to lie in any way regardless of context.
The first is an example of relative morality, where right or wrong can change depending on the circumstances. The latter shows absolute morality, where what is right or wrong is just black and white with no grey areas. These diversities in opinions and moral values can be seen in simple everyday situations. However, it seems that opinions are not the only element that can influence one’s morality. There are other influential factors such as the society, laws, politics, religion, culture and emotion, as well as family and education, powerful influencers from early on in the development of a person. Studies suggest that Western cultures follow an “individualistic” approach when it comes to their intentions, actions and decisions. People of Western culture tend to focus more on personal achievement and fulfilment, rights and liberties, while Eastern culture abides by the “collectivist” approach, defined mainly by social connections with others and one’s social responsibilities and relationships.
To summarise, in a collectivist culture, the goal of social life is to harmonise with and support one’s communities, whereas, in more individualistic societies, the goal becomes to enhance one’s individual self and make choices independently. These factors and social conformities will affect how different people distinguish between right and wrong, make decisions and their self-view. Sometimes, when questions are asked about a person’s actions or decisions as to why they did a certain thing or made a certain decision, responses can sound like: “It just felt right”, “It felt wrong” or “It seemed wrong”, where no further explanation is given as to exactly why. That’s people building their moral conscience based often solely on their sensations or their “feelings” that a lot of the times it may not be in any way correlated with their opinions. Furthermore, it has been proven that moral judgments can be altered by eliciting emotions, and emotional deficits result in moral blindness. Psychologists have shown that psychopaths suffer from a profound deficit in negative emotions, which result in a profound deficit in their understanding more moral rules.
A study conducted by Blair (1995) has shown that psychopaths fail to distinguish between moral and conventional rules. He argues that they regard moral rules as if they were merely conventional, the data suggesting that psychopaths cannot form moral judgments because they lack the emotions on which those judgments ordinarily depend. If the upbringing of a criminal is examined, one often finds that the criminal’s childhood included some form of abuse or mistreatment. It can be inferred that there is a relation between the environment and the nurturing of a child and whether they turn to crime. Family members are often the most prominent in the life of a young child, a child will likely learn the difference between right and wrong by observing someone’s reaction to behaviour and by modelling the moral behaviour exhibited by their family members. For example, the rise in violent crime parallels the rise in families abandoned by fathers, indicating a 17% increase in juvenile crime.
Opinions, laws, feelings, society, religion, culture, background, feelings…It’s those influencers that not only directly affect one’s decision making but also indirectly affect how one thinks about morality, leading on to affecting the different general frameworks in how one tends to think about right and wrong. These general frameworks, such as egoism, which is where a person makes a “correct action” based on if the action best suits the person themselves. Many people can use this same framework, however “correct” is subjective, and the “action that best suits the person” varies between every individual. Even though on the surface, they are using the same framework, their ideas of “correct” and “best suits” are different because of their influencers (opinions, laws, culture…etc) that have already made an impact on them in the first place.
Some think of moralising as an intellectual exercise, and some think it’s an attempt to make sense of “gut instincts”, while some conform to nativism and believes that it is innate and comes from above. Philosopher’s and psychologists have since approached this topic of morality and moral development from several perspectives: Locke’s ‘Tabula rasa’ backed by empiricism, the idea that humans are not born with morals nor certain knowledge and that all ideas come from sensation, reflection and experience; B.F Skinner’s theory of behaviourism, which looks at how the child functions and how the society or the environment affects it, he believes that socialising with others is a primary proponent of moral development, stating that the outside world is what shapes the individual’s internal sense of morality. A contrasting view of nativism, defined as the theory that concepts, mental capacities, and mental structures are innate rather than acquired by learning. his idea though, is challenged by the prospect that if morality really was an innate instinct of mankind, the principles would not vary from culture to culture, or from group to group.
This idea though is challenged by the prospect that if morality really was an innate instinct of mankind, the principles would not vary from culture to culture, or from group to group. The influencing factors and whether morality is innate or learned remains one of the great mysteries of philosophy and psychology, humans are, however, born with a conscience and empathy, both of which are a basis of morality. To say that humans are born with a conscience is not the same as saying that they are born with morality, but as one grows, that conscience is what helps to construct the set of morals. Morality is a product that comes from understanding. Perhaps people are building on morals and knowledge about how the external world works. Many people turn to the law when looking for a right or wrong and act on the deontology framework, and they believe that the law is morally right. But similar to how there’s rarely an objective truth, there is rarely a definite objective “right” or “wrong” that exists. However, these are all, in fact, different opinions about morality, and although they do have an impact on one’s morality, it is not just simply based upon one’s opinions, but formed over many different influe