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(A Critical Approach)



1.1     The Exact Definition of Morality

In making moral choices, the morality of one’s actions does not depend entirely on the sincerity of the intention or the evaluation of the motives, but it must be determined according to objective criteria drawn from the nature of the person and his acts. – Pope John Paul II to a medical-Moral Workshop, January 20, 1990.

Morality in the strictest sense of the word, deals with that which is innately regarded as right or wrong. This notion of morality is a known system of principles and judgements shared by cultural, religious, and philosophical concepts and beliefs, by which humans’ subjectivity determines whether a given actions are right or wrong. Through these concepts and beliefs, the society or group guides its members and regulate their behaviours. It can be descriptively refer to a code of conduct put forward by a society, or some other group, such as a religion, or accepted by an individual for her own behaviour. Normatively, it refers to a code of conduct that would be put forward by all rational persons under specified conditions.

There are certain actions which all of us would condemn as morally wrong and ought not to be done by anybody. For example, armed robbery, embezzlement of public funds, bribery and corruption, neglect of one’s duties, dishonesty, and so on. In the other way, there are also certain actions, which are fidelity to one’s duties, respect for human life, hospitality, kindness, helping those in need, honesty and so on.

Though according to Frederich Nietzsche, it is not good to refer some of the above listed virtues as right or good rather they are evil and could be seen among the inferior people. He said so in his explanation of master morality and slave morality. Equally, there are other kinds of actions above which opinions differ. Some say it is wrong while others consider it as right. For instance, such actions like abortion, contraception, euthanasia, masturbation and so on. The question of abortion is being morally permissible is a current issue in United States. There are many questions for all of us, why do we consider certain actions as right, and others as wrong? How do we decide which actions are right and which actions are wrong? What is the criterion or standard for making such judgements? What do we even mean when we say that a certain action is morally wrong? Is it for the individual to decide for himself which actions he is to consider as wrong or right? Is it true that “there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so, or is certain things good or bad irrespective of our thinking? What are the fundamental principles of morality and how do we come to know them? These and similar questions are what we shall discuss here and equally ask ourselves.

The definition of morality plays a crucial, although often unacknowledged role in formulating ethical theories. According to R. M. Hare: “The function of moral principles is to guide conduct”1. But to take “morality” to refer to an actually existing code of conduct is quite to lead to some form of relativism.

That is, to claim that there is no code of conduct that, under any plausible specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.

1.2            An Overview of Morality

Morality applies to different fields of studies and in which the choices made by individuals express an interior relative to other individuals (even non-members of the society). It varied greatly from society to society, culture to culture. There is this academic debate, which states whether morality can exist only in the society or in a hypothetical individual without any relationships with others. Also, does morality based only on religion, such that no person without religion can practice morality? The efficacy of a morality depends on the social position and political representatives of the group that espouse it and the way it touches the norms of the related society. Also, a person without religion can still practice morality. Though “some theologians claimed that morality is inseparable from religion”.2 But a lot of moral values came from religion.


1.3.1  A choice for Life:

The decision to be selfish or unselfish is not just a choice of the moment but is a fundamental part of character, as it is one of the first, if not the first, value that is formed by the developing mind of a baby. This is so, because nature delivers the infant with an incomplete set of values along with the ability to request succour. Existence precedes essence, says Sartre. By this he means that man was not created with any fixed essence or nature according to which he must live. On the contrary, human mind is not tabla rasa that is why a child begins to succour when no one teaches him. Therefore, the above infantile demands could be developed towards good or evil depending on his relationship with others. This is because Man is not a finished product, but a self-creating, a being that is continually making himself and giving himself an essence. Example: A mother who makes every other thing secondary to feed her infant is helping to create a selfish monster in the child who will latter assume himself of more paramount importance than any other person, while the mother who enforces a program of feeding that is convenient to the household, is achieving the opposite effect.

1.3.2 Baby’s Demand Hard To Resist

Nevertheless, it is not easy to resist the demands of babies, because nature has made adults sensitive to the appearance and sound of infants. Many women have a strong desire to pamper babies, and children enjoy the ready affections; but it is the unrestrained application of such feelings that create immoral humans or selfish people. For unless a baby discovers the need for patience and endurance, the subsequent adult will never accept the need for self-sacrifice, or moral restraint.

1.3.3  Inevitable Results of Undisciplined Upbringing.

These come as a result of parents’ total concern or basic desire to pamper children more than required.

-                     My feelings are all important: The youthful students can only learn that his feeling is very necessary and the parents will always respond creditably. As a result, they cry and adult’s leap into action to relieve the distress, regardless of the reason for the tears. When they smile, adult smile.

-                     How to fool parents: When a child get this trick, a controlling force, then he fakes tears and smiles in order to get the adults reactions to their demands.

-                     Disrespect for Authority: When this goes on throughout childhood, the resultant effect is that the child overlooks the authority with its restrictions and laws, as nothing but hot air that can be safely flouted by emotional appeal.

-                     Truth is Unimportant: When we allow children to prevent laws and do whatever they like, because we feel so much concern for them. The lesson must be that truth (what actually happened) is unimportant compared to the subsequent emotional reaction of others.


Having seen all these, the decision to be moral or immoral is resolved starting from early childhood even before awareness has properly developed. So, unless unselfishness is removed during infancy by enforcing a code of discipline, the subsequent adults must become selfish, and thus immoral.

Also, fathers exercise better control than mothers, they invoke fear and enforce discipline in the child and are more difficult to be manipulated through emotional appeal.

1.4    kinds of Morality

1.4.1 Rational Morality:

This is the idea of morality as innate or self-evident, based on reason. Thus, morality is necessarily one of self-interest and looks at man’s nature and the reason; he needs values known as a moral code that must be practiced to reach those values. Rational morality asserts that all other “views” of morality are subjective and require some sort of sacrifice, either to the supernatural (i.e. God) or collective motive, where as proper morality is self-evident and in the interest of the individual’s happiness and self-evident.

However, this has been criticized; Churian objectivists are one group that opposes the idea of rational morality. They believed in the fact that without objective standard morality, rationality is simply personal opinion. The human choice to do “right” is guided by values, but the determination of value, an objectivist would argue that it cannot come from reason alone.

1.4.2 Morality in Judicial Systems

The government of South Africa is attempting to create a moral Regeneration movement. Part of this is a proposed Bill of morals that will bring biblical based ‘moral code’ into the realm of law. Though this move by nominally secular democracy has attracted relatively little criticism. In judicial systems, the word morality concretely means a requirement for the assessment of certain charges or careers, or for the obtaining of certain licenses or concessions, and generally consists of the absence of previous records, for instance, crimes, political or commercial irregularities.

1.4.3       Morality and Darwinism

Some evolutionary psychologists have argued that human morality originated from evolutionary processes. As this could be experienced in their innate tendency to develop a sense of right and wrong in a species with complex social interactions, and doctrines. Selected behaviours, seen in abstraction as moral codes are seen to be common to all human cultures, and it reflects in their development and similarities to natural selection. These aspects of morality can be seen as the basis of some religious doctrine. From this, some also argue that there may be a simple Darwinian explanation for the existence of religion. Such that regardless of the validity of religious beliefs, religion tends to encourage behaviour beneficial to the species, as a code of morality tends to encourage communality, and communality tends to assist survival.

1.4.4       Nietzsche’s Morality:

He derived the notion that there is a universal and absolute system of morality that everybody must obey. To say this is to disregard the uniqueness of individuals. There are, says Nietzsche a “Twofold early history of good and evil”3, which shows the development of two primary types of morality, namely master morality and slave morality. Nietzsche totally rejects the negative values or virtues of the “slave morality”, as virtues that turn men into weaklings. In other ways, they are evil or morally bad for Nietzsche rather pride, violence, ruthless struggle, ambition, display of power, strength, vitality, egoism, and so on, are the virtues and what is morally good for “master morality”.

Nietzsche rejects such Christian virtues, which he calls slave morality like humility, meekness, self-denial, prudence, patience, and so on. and this is the point of similarity between him and Machiavellians. He was influenced by Darwin’s evolution theory according to which all living beings have to struggle for existence.

Finally, morality can be defined in two fold manner; descriptive and Normative. In the descriptive sense; it refers to that code of conduct that is put forward by a society. Though for anthropologists, it does not simply mean that always. In a normative sense, “It is a science that gives rules for acting, especially if these norms have to do with a person’s inner goodness and perfection rather than with making of external objects”4. The only feature that the descriptive and normative senses of “morality” have in common is that they guide our behaviours.


5. C. Ewutosi, Ethics, A Normative, Practical and Speculative   Science, (Unpublished handout, 2003). P.4


1.5     Conditions Affecting Morality:

Here, we are only responsible before God only for truly human act that is those where knowledge and free will play part. In a situation where freedom and free will are not involved, we do not have a human act but only an act of man or woman. It is easy enough to agree that the act of murder is bad, but just how guilty the murderer is before God is difficult to answer. The objective goodness or badness of an act is one thing; the subjective accountability of the actor is another.

There are seven particular conditions which may lessen or remove moral responsibility entirely: ignorance, fear, concupiscence, violence, habit, temperament, and nervous mental disorders. Let us examine some of them:

Ignorance: This is lack of knowledge in a person capable of knowing. We are responsible in some cases for knowledge; in other cases, we are not. There are different types of ignorance;

Vincible Ignorance: is that which can and should be dispelled. It implies culpable negligence, meaning that the person could know and ought to know. There are three main types of vincible ignorance: simple vincible ignorance, affected or studied vincible ignorance and crass vincible ignorance.


Simple Vincible Ignorance: is present when one makes some effort, but not a sufficient effort, to dispel the ignorance. A nurse who is unsure of what dosage of medicine to give to a patient refers to the doctor’s order sheet, but is unable to read his writing. Though the doctor is in the office, she does not bother to call him. In guessing at the dosage to give to the patient, the nurse is guilty of simple vincible ignorance.

Affected Vincible Ignorance: is that which is deliberately fostered in order to avoid any obligation that knowledge might bring to light. For example, a person suspects that it is seriously wrong to absent from Mass deliberately on Sunday, but he makes no effort to find out the truth.

Crass Vincible Ignorance: is that which results from total lack of effort to acquire the lacking knowledge due to laziness. A clerk in a convenience store does not know the price of an article brought to the checkout counter. The owner is in the back of the store, but the clerk does not want to bother the owner to find out the price of the product. So he makes up a price and charges the customer that amount.

Invincible Ignorance: is that which cannot be dispelled either because the individual is unable to secure adequate information, even after a reasonable effort, or because he simply does not know that there is any problem. In other word, he is ignorant of this ignorance. The person cannot be expected to take steps to enlighten himself because he is unaware that he is in need of enlightenment. For example, an employee customarily tells lies by way of making excuses for minor faults and feels that, since they harm no one, they are in no way sinful. He is not aware that he needs enlightenment on this matter. Another individual may be confused in mind about a project, but after having made a reasonable effort to dispel his ignorance, and having failed to do so, he may proceed to act since once a reasonable effort to dispel his ignorance, and having failed to do so, he may proceed to act since once a reasonable effort has been made, the ignorance is invincible.


We may sum up the moral principles concerning ignorance by stating that invincible ignorance eliminates responsibility while vincible ignorance lessens responsibility without actually eliminating it. 


Concupiscence: is a tendency of human nature towards evil. Is equally the rebellion of the passions against reason. There are times when we feel strongly drawn to do something that we know would cause nothing but sorrow and regret to all concerned, even to ourselves, and yet we are strongly tempted to do it. Just like St. Paul said, “I cannot understand even my own actions. I do not do what I want to do but what I hate” (Romans 7:15).under here, we may have love, fear, hatred, joy, grief, desire, aversion, hop, despair, and anger. 

Habit: The voluntary nature of human actions is also affected by habit, which is an inclination to perform some particular action. It is usually acquired by repetition and characterized by a decreased power of resistance and an increased facility of performance. A habit is sometimes called “second nature”, meaning it is deeply ingrained in an individual as a result of constant repetition.

1.6     Principles for Judging Morality

In judging the morality of a specific action, some fundamental principles must be applied. They include;

1.     An act is morally good if the act itself, the purpose of the act, and the circumstances of the act are substantially good. We say “substantially” good because an act may have minor shortcomings or defects and still be a truly good act. A person who declined to steal from an employer out of fear of being caught than because stealing is wrong performs a good act, but not for the best of motives.

2.     If an act is intrinsically evil, the act is not morally allowable regardless of purpose or circumstances. Murder, abortion, rape, adultery, racism are always evil. They are never allowed as a solution to a problem, no matter how serious the problem.

3.     If an act is itself morally good or at least indifferent, its’ morality will be judged by the purpose or the circumstances. For instance, going to the bank is in itself indifferent. If a person is going to the bank to withdraw his money through legal means, he is doing something good. But, if he is going to the bank to steal money, then he is doing something morally evil.

4.     The circumstances may create, mitigate or aggravate sin like studying your book in preparation for examination is good thing, but becoming so engrossed in the book that one neglects to take care of a sick person is morally wrong.

5.     There are three moral elements (the act itself, the purpose, and the circumstances) that make an act morally good. If any one element is evil, the act is evil. A child who never does anything wrong except disobeying the teacher, is not a good person.

1  R. M. Hare, The language of morals (Oxford: O.U.P., 1952) , P.1

2 B. Haring, The Law of Christ, Vol II (USA: Newman Press, 1964), P.123

3 S. Stumpf, Philosophy, History and Problems, fifth edition (New York: McGraw-Hill), P. 420.

4 C. Ekwutosi, Ethics, A Normative, Practical And Speculative Science, Unpub. Lecture note, 2003, P.4

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