What’s moral anyway?

If you only act in a given way to avoid punishment or obtain a reward, is that moral?

Lets say Person A finds a wallet with money in it on the street. If Person A check the driver’s license and returns the wallet and contents, that’s generally a moral action.

But, what if Person A returned the wallet to get a reward? Cash or maybe a small article in a local paper?

What if the wallet belonged to a known person or someone whom it would be advantageous for Person A to meet?

Or, what if Person A was religious and simply returning the wallet to avoid hell?

All three of these motivations for returning a wallet taint the action; making returning the wallet less than altruism or kindness to a fellow person.

I think most people can relate to the first couple, and depending on circumstances, they are almost reasonable- after all, you may be going out of your way, and something – at least a thank you is in order and there’s nothing wrong with the little pleasure/reward hit your brain gives you when you do a good thing either. More importantly, the first 2 scenarios arise from the finder of the wallet making a decision to act in some way – leave it, toss it, keep it, return it, keep the money and return the wallet and other contents.

Quick tip: I read about a study that placed wallets all over the city, and the wallets with the highest return rate had photos of little kids in them – so, whether you have a kid or not, drop in a photo and increase the chances of someone taking pity on you and returning the wallet.

That said, in the avoid hell scenario, there’s no decision to act – there’s simply an application of rules imposed on behavior. And actually, does keeping a found money filled wallet even count as stealing under those rules? I dunno. Maybe you need the money more and it’s gawd’s way of helping you out – a manna from heaven

So, if you only act in a manner that you think will get you into a positive afterlife and avoid a negative one – are you really moral?

I don’t think so.

I think that along with action, that your motivation, reasoning and outcome all also count in the determination.

But along with those factors is the ability to assess a situation, the likelihood of various outcomes and then make a choice of actions.

Using an external guide, like any version of the 10 Commandments, let’s say, isn’t making a decision, isn’t assessing the situation, it’s applying a set of rules that do not allow for rule conflict and have many gaps.

Do not murder seems pretty clear – not to mention self evident, but, not so in all scenarios. But, all countries have soldiers and they are trained to kill. Or, we can keep to civilians and look at Doctors – sometimes doing the least harm means allowing the patient to die. There’s no sense dragging out a death, putting their family through that agony, putting their body through the torture. Does it really count as murder if there’s no motive other than mercy and emotional harm reduction?

Stealing – what if your family is starving? Isn’t stealing and fencing things a lesser immoral action than becoming a drug dealer to make money?

Covet? Covet isn’t a bad thing – covet drives the economy – we see what the Jones next door have and we want it so we work to earn the money and we buy it too.

Coveting the wife? I suspect it’s less to do with the person than how their relationship appears in public (your fantasy of their life) compared to the reality of your relationship.

Honoring the parents. Well, what if your parents abandoned, abused, molested, made you turn tricks or sell drugs since as a kid you face lesser charges or a host of other horrifying childhood options. Wouldn’t honor the honorable be a better guideline?

The main theme of the 10 Commandments is bowing to authority from god to the parents and almost an afterthought of not doing the big self evident crimes.

Wait – actually, there’s no commandment that says thou shall not rape women or children. So apparently, that’s moral under this rule set.

There’s no commandment that says you can’t beat someone almost to death either. So assault is okay too.

In fact, most of the commandments are about worship god, not worshiping other things, not using god as a swear.

Seriously, people read these and don’t think that this is a very jealous, insecure, petty guy looking to get his ego stroked and if he doesn’t, will have a lackey torture you forever. Nice.

It never fails to astonish me that believers do not understand that being good and cooperative is needed to live in diverse and large groups of people.

Behaving a certain way to avoid punishment or obtain a reward isn’t moral, doesn’t demonstrate an understanding of morality, doesn’t demonstrate understanding that you have to cooperate with other people – in fact, that hell/heaven thing – heaven is only good as long as hell is also filled with people. Apparently, to really enjoy heaven, you have to know that others are in hell being tortured.

I just don’t see how taking pleasure in that is at all moral.

And, if all a person is about is avoiding punishment/obtaining reward, they are little different than an amoeba and the stimulus/response dance.

1 thought on “What’s moral anyway?

  1. Pingback: For the Greater Good… « Random Ntrygg

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