Is trying to be moral insane?

Moral philosophy is a huge field with many different positions, but I think most are agreed that some effort is needed if one wants to be “moral”.

In the course of this “trying to be moral” one is trying to aquire qualities that one doesn’t possess or doesn’t possess in the measure that is desired.

My question is; can it ever be possible to genuinely acheive moral qualities? By this I do not mean to question that moral behaviour can be exhibited, but that the moral behaviour is consonant with what one really feels. ie. your intellect could be constantly straining to try and find “the right way to act”, while your emotions do not agree that any “moral” action is worthwhile.

I’ll try to illustrate a bit: consider Jesus Christ, if I understand correctly he acted morally because he felt love for everyone, there was no struggle going on inside him. We however, who are less than perfect in that respect can only offer a hollow imitation of that morality, our moral actions are forced without the genuine overflowing love that Jesus showed.

It seems to go without saying that acheiving Jesus’ degree of morality is not possible, but the practical question here is can emulation actually develop this kind of love, or is the resulting state one of conflict between the heart and mind?

When you think about other qualities, eg. “being funny” its not something that can be aquired by emulation, you either have it or you don’t. Are moral qualities the same?

Well, to start off, when people say that they are “trying to be moral” it tends to mean that they are trying to follow a set of morals and values that they already have. That is, they’re not trying to emualte morality from someone else without really feeling it – they’re trying to match up their personal feelings and thoughts with how they behave. That’s where the challenge lies.

I personally feel that it is immoral to steal. However, if someone left a million dollars in small, unmarked bills right in front of me, and the money belonged to child-raping violent white supremacist, and I had no fear of being caught… well, I’d be at least tempted, right?

It’s a matter of scaling personal morals – not necessarily developing or emulating them – into all physical behavior. I believe it’s moral to treat all humans with love and respect as much as at all possible, but I don’t always do this. Does that mean that it’s somehow against my nature to seek this out, or that it would be truer to my own nature to act with no love at all? I doubt it.

We as humans are driven by a variety of forces. We have to be selfish or we risk being taken advantage of or not surviving. However, we have to be social – and social rules do include morality – otherwise we do not have the comfort and protection of society, which in turn makes us safer and more content. It therefore makes a great deal of sense that we’re not completely moral but not completely immoral or amoral either.

u need to ask yourself WHY you want it ?

i certainly don’t. i could care less if i am “moral” or not.

if you’re worried about how people percieve you then deal with that directly, pretend to be a nice person. why try to make yourself believe something that you already know to be false ?

I think this is untrue. Much like morals, humor is subjective to who is doing the viewing. Something can be ass-on-the-floor funny to Bob, but may be just stupid to Jane, in much the same way morals are.

For instance, vasyachkin could entirely lack a sense of humor, and be the unfunniest clod on the face of the planet. He could find humor in absolutely nothing, and find nothing worthy of being humorous about. He may do some acts that seem mundane to himself, but may be a laugh riot to someone watching him.

The question is - how are you defining your morals? From which point of view? There are a lot of people who do not strive to be moral, they just do whatever they feel like - though this does not exclude their being moral from another point of view. I have no clue if that makes any sense to you or not, because I’m bad at explaining things.

There’s a difference (to my mind) between being moral and behaving morally. One can realize that adhering to certain standards of morality, even when one doesn’t personally hold the same standards, is often a useful thing to do.

Likewise, someone who is generally unfunny could still be taught a good joke and coached as to the proper telling of said joke, and they’d be considered funny even when they really aren’t.

In terms of human behavior, one needs to look at our evolutionary past. Morality did not exist prior to 10,000 years ago when all humans were hunter-gatherers. The only morality was tribal. One had to follow the rules to be a member of the tribe, and tribal identity was more about coalition building in face of dangers from other tribes. That is, moral systems were in place to keep tribal members at peace with each other, while being willing to die to protect the tribe.

Along came civilization, accumulation of wealth, and hierarchy. Since humans are adapted to accept tribal ethical/moral value systems, humans are for the most part adapted to be easily led and follow the rules. We are easily indoctrinated, even if we allow different leaders to indoctrinate different groups. Note how almost all humans believe that there are moral/ethical truths, but very little agreement on what they are. That is because humans are not moral, they are tribalistic.

Once we understand the continuum from our primate ancestors, to human acquisition of language, and our need to find reasons why we behave in certain ways, it becomes easy to see why we struggle so hard to understand our own moral principles, even though we are without them outside of tribalism, or group evolutionary strategies. When viewed in terms of evolutionary psychology, all moral systems are seen as serving tribal cooperative (collective hunting) and intergroup conflict (warfare). That is, real moral/ethical systems are an illusion, unless they are understood to be arbitrary systems agreed to by a group in order to have some kind of order. Even the Mafia had a tight moral code that served its purpose.

Being willing to sacrifice oneself for the betterment of the tribe is certainly a moral choice, whether it agrees with modern morals or not. We know very little of prehistoric religion, though we have found VERY ancient statuettes (I’ve been scouring Google for 10 minutes looking for a cite with more detail, but I’m afraid it is getting late and my mind is wandering off to bed without me) that argue strongly for prehistoric religion. It is not too great a stretch to imagine religion (and associated morality) to reach a bit further back into prehistory and see a similar pattern of behavior.

IIRC Maimonides stated that religion was necessary because there are three sorts of people (making the exact values up here): 1/8 who will do what is “right” no matter what, 1/8 who will do “wrong” no matter what and 3/4 who will do whatever is expedient at the time, so long as they won’t get in trouble.

Given that there’s nothing one can do to deter the “wrongdoers,” laws and religion (in this case Judaism) are set up to deter the masses from screwing things up. They provide a moral framework for adherents to follow. Even if one doesn’t believe the religion, there are physical punishments for breaking the laws which enforce the morality of the religion. IANAL, but I beleive that many of today’s American laws are descended from the Judeo-Christian tradition and the various cultures that were assimilated into them over time, giving us a de facto morality to follow, even in an ostensibly secular state, with very real punishments should one fail.
I suppose that drifts a bit from the OP’s question, but unless we define the morals specifically, we might just be spinning our wheels and if we do get specific, I think we might get caught up in semantics.

I have trouble with the example. Yes, he acted morally out of love, but there was a great struggle. He was, after all, a human being also.

In my own opinion, I think that emulation helps a great deal – whether it be Jesus or someone else whose qualities you admire. Knowing what you really believe is moral takes a lot of effort and time. I like the t-shirt that says “Inquire Within.”

But I still think that it remains a struggle to choose to “do the right thing” more than it is to know the right thing to do. The desire to choose to be moral and the will to choose to be moral seem to vary a lot from person to person.

I would like to understand what you are saying. Is it that you don’t care if you are moral by someone else’s standards or do you really not care if what you do is immoral? For example, would it bother you to kill someone?


Exactly, and I would argue that moral behaviour for expediency and social cohesion is the only form of moraliy that actually exists.


I’m not so sure… What do you mean by someone “already having” a set of morals and values? I understand by someone “having morals” that they have needed to adopt a set of principles because they perceive their character as being deficient in some way. If someone had perfect character there would be no recourse to moral principles to guide action precisely because morality follows from perfect character, but does not precede it.

My justification for saying this is that it is quite possible for someone to follow any system of morality to the letter but all the time be seething with hate and resentment, or more likely to use the system exclusively for personal gain.

IANA Christian, but I’m pretty sure that Jesus said something on the lines of ‘Do unto others…’ whatever… Basically… treat other people how you would expect to be treated. That’s Morals.
Like I said, I’m not a Christian, but that geezer Jesus did come up with a lot of good ideas on how to live…

Morality isn’t about duty or conforming. It’s not moral to follow rules that tell you; do this, but don’t do that. Morality isn’t about doing the right thing it is about being the right thing. It’s about the things you value - honesty, empathy, intelligence and how they affect your character. Morality is about doing the right thing without even thinking about it.

excellent post ScienceGirl.

morality is a tool used to gain social acceptance. as such it is only necessary to act moral.

trying to be moral is not only unnecessary, but also impossible if you understand what morality really is.

personally, i do not even try to act moral, rather i calculate each decision individually based on whom it will affect and how these people can affect me back. i do not use any this is wrong or this is right kind of rules of thumb, those are useful for people who are unable to think.

vasyachkin: I don’t know if you saw my question to you. So I will ask it in another way based on your last post. Would you kill someone for pleasure if you knew that you would not be caught?

Would you ever make a decision based on how it will affect other people if it does not, in turn, cause them to take some action which affects you?

I don’t live my a set of hard and fast rules. Different circumstances call for differing actions in order to do the moral thing. But I do think that most moral actions have some things in common – avoiding intentional cruelty, for example.
If there are exceptions, they don’t come to mind.

don’t ask, I am in agreement with you.

So if you felt like getting off, you would be more than happy to rape your 8 year old daughter?

Which doesn’t mean morality didn’t exist. :confused:

Or because you feel agreement is a hallmark of morality.

When viewed in terms of evolutionary psychology, how do I determine what is moral right now, with the decisions I face?

While I can’t deny that other humans and human organizations have influenced my view of morality, I am not sure this indicates that they are an illusion, or even what an illusionary morality is supposed to be.

And this demonstrates illusionary principles how, exactly?

sorrry Zoe i missed ur question the first time.

first thing : you have to remember conditioning we undergo takes a while to erase. i am 22 now, up until about 20 i did not really question these things.

secondly, i dont get pleasure out of killing anything, i am not sick, just open minded.

thirdly, if this has any purpose its to have pleasure. and love by far is the biggest pleasure you can potentially have. you dont want to lose the ability to experience that, so having feelings for some people places restrictions on who you’d be able to kill without feeling anything.

also, if a person in general contributes to the society, there is still a slight chance that it will trickle down to you indirectly, so you dont want to kill a good person even if s/he don’t have anything to do with you directly.

and Zagadka:

1 - i am not a pedophile, i am not attracted to 8 year olds.
2 - if i dont care about my children, i would not have children in the first place - makes sense ?
3 - whether or not i would have sex with my daughter if i had a hot 15 year old one, is something i am still trying to figure out :slight_smile: its an interesting question :slight_smile:

I’m fascinated by this. It is like meeting your polar opposite.

Two situations, both somewhat cliche, but interesting nonetheless:

  1. You are in a 3rd world country, and are captured by rebels. They take you to their base, and show you a line of people. They ask you to either pick two to die, or they will kill the whole lot.

  2. You are sitting in your apartment. You hear screaming and gunshots from the apartment next to you.

What is your course in each of these situations?

1 - i would pick two old ugly people.

2 - i would call the cops.

How often does this come up in the course of a normal life that someone could give an realsitic (i.e. not during Philosophy and Ethics 101) answer?