Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shades of Grey: The Inner Search for Morality

            What actions can be defined as “moral?” This is not an easy question to answer. Perhaps an even more difficult question; “What actions are “immoral?” The answer to this question may vary depending on each individual that provides an answer. The reason for this is not complex. Like many other thought provoking questions such as “How did we get here?” or “What is our purpose?” we cannot yield an answer. We simply do not know the full truth. We do not know what is right and what is wrong. All that we have based our beliefs on is due to what has been passed on through generations, what has been deemed “right” by society, and what we have been told. The reason these morals differ amongst each person can only be explained by the varying environments that helped the individuals craft their moral compasses.
Perhaps the greatest of all human faults is its inability to truly see things from another perspective. The majority of us are unable or unwilling to understand why another individual or culture does things the way they do. Not only do we not understand these practices, but we believe it is our moral duty to change them. Examples of this can be seen again and again throughout history. Some have had negative results like the crusades or the spread of western culture into Africa, while some, like the abolition of slavery have had more positive outcomes. Whether positive or negative, the truth remains that we, as humans, try to infect the rest of society with our own personal ethics.
Once an individual has established their morals, it is nearly impossible to alter them. Anyone who has tried to do this will attest to the stubbornness they faced. Someone who has never smoked a cigarette may find it morally wrong to do so. When they encounter a seasoned smoker, they may look down on them or try to influence their thinking. They may say something along the lines of, “How could you do that to yourself?” Their tone will reflect the disgust they feel towards the smoker. The man with the cigarette may respond, “It helps me relieve stress. I am aware of the negative effects it may cause to me, but I personally believe the positives outweigh the negatives.” The non-smoker, set in his way, will most likely be disgusted by this response and find moral objection to it. According to the article “The Moral Instinct” by Steve Pinker, “people tend to align their moralization with their own lifestyles.” Even without any good reason to justify their thinking, they will be permanently fixed to their original beliefs. Pinker says, “People don’t generally engage in moral reasoning, but moral rationalization: they begin with a conclusion, coughed up by an unconscious emotion, and then work backward to a plausible justification.”
Everyone will have their own set of morals, but these are not the only moral. Ethics are what you truly believe without any outside influence. When you find what is right, and know it with an unfaltering certainty, then you will have found morality.


  1. I really like the complex questions you pose about morality here. In your first paragraph, the notion of morals differing "because of the varying environments" that helped a person develop a moral compass is fascinating. But if you cannot really ever alter morals (which you suggest later), is there no "learning curve?" Are people born into difficult situations or in environments with very poor role models, for example, doomed to never change course in life? And if a few people ARE able to change their moral compasses--why them? What makes them break out of the confines that others cannot escape from? Any thoughts?

  2. Maybe I should write about the importance of education. I think this may be the only way someone can find their own true morals without outside influence. Are there any other possible examples?

  3. great blog post. i thought the background info in the first paragraph was a great way to start your post, it is very well organized. i think that once you try something that is immoral or spend time with people who share opposite beliefs it gets easier to change your own morals. the people you spend time with can have a serious influence on your own set of morals

  4. awesome adam. i love the "smoker" example you gave. i think thats one of the most common ways to depict what people's simple morals in life are. what about the bigger picture morals? like the ones on love, or family? those are important too. not saying that smoking is not. however, i think i would've liked to see your thoughts on them.

  5. Why do people feel as if they should change the morals of those who's morals they don't understand? It's strange and true, like you stated, how this is repeated through history continuously. How do you think this could be prevented to protect each other's culture and morals? How can we develop a understanding perspective?