Friday, March 27, 2009


By Luis K. Feliz

Friedrick Nietzsche observes that “morality is the herd-instinct in the individual.” On the other hand, Alfred North Whitehead maintains that “what is morality in any given time or place? It is what the majority then and there happen to like, and immorality is what they dislike.” You should see these quotes as points of departure or teasers to goad your ideas. You don’t need to respond to the quotes above, simply express your opinion on the following questions:

1) What is morality? Where or how did you learn to be a moral human being?
2) Does the definition of morality change over time?
3) What is your definition of morality?

Please share your thoughts by posting your comments below and don't forget to write your name when you post your response.


  1. I was wondering the role that religion plays in such a core value, if religion itself can be paradoxical to the question of morality. Three weeks ago the BBC published an article about a 9-year old girl in Brazil that was raped by her stepfather and as a consequence became pregnant with twins.

    “Brazil only permits abortions in cases of rape or health risks to the mother.
    Doctors said the girl's case met both these conditions, but the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho said the law of God was above any human law.”

    The 9-year old girl aborted and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. After she has been raped and destroyed psychologically, she was also condemned in the abused name of God. I sat down and thought about it rationally. I could not found any critical reasoning to this decision, and the disturbing idea of this girl delivering these babies if she had decided to remain faithful to her religion. Atheists can make stronger claims about religion and the existence of God. Believers may have to bitterly pray to such injustices.

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  3. Edgar, I read the news too. As a matter of fact, the news is the reason why I asked Luis to talk about the morality on this blog.

    The stepfather of the 9 years old girl also raped the girl's 14 years old sister, who has physical disabilities. Yet Jose Cardoso Sobrinho claimed that the sin of abortion is greater than rape. I mean, this stepfather raped a 9 and 14 years old girl, not once but for countless times!

    The worst point is that, this 23 years old man was fully aware the fact that those girls had no where else to go but lived with the same house he lived. Brazil is not like America, where agencies for child protection are developed well, and children have more means to receive help to protect themselves from any threat from their family. In Brazil, crime within a family is not easy to come up to the surface/public. What this guy has committed was not just rape, but a much bigger crime.

    The purpose of morality is to live humanistically. And I do not see any justice in someone, who is particularly a symbol of goodness for many people, refused to accept the truth that raping a 9 years old girl and a 14 yeas old with physical challenges is by incredibly far an inhumane act than an abortion to save a little girl's body from a great risk of death.

    I am going to write my ideas of what morality is, and alternative ways to teach children morality without using beliefs in religion.

  4. Glancing over your statements on the rape case, I have a few comments to say. Just bear with me because they may seem insensitive but I'll go for it. Firstly everyone knows that two wrongs don't make a right. Yes, I'll admit it wasn't the girls fault that she got raped, it wasn't her fault that she was born with a cruel stepfather and it wasn't her fault that she got pregnant however does it justify the taking of another life? I'm not a woman so it may it may seem insensitive of me but I'm just throwing this out there. I just recently heard the story of Socrates life and how he was unjustly killed. Socrates friends offered to break him out of jail before the execution but he refused to leave because he believed paying one injustice with another injustice was not right. Therefore was killing the baby a right thing to do?
    Secondly, the issue on whether abortion is more "sinful" than rape is irrelevant. In God's eyes, what is wrong is wrong is wrong, not just because of the action itself, but because of the heart committing the action. I'll write more later and eventually get back to the topic of morality but I got to prepare for a speech.

  5. Emmanuel, I respect your belief and understand where you stand.

    However, please note that the comparison I made of "which is more sinful?" is not my idea, but actually Jose Cardoso Sobrinho's. This is a quote from the news.

    --The stepfather who sexually abused the little girl for over 4 years has not been excommunicated. The church has stated that the sexual acts he forced upon the little girl and her mentally disabled older sister are not as bad as ending the life of an unborn child. "It is clear that he committed a very serious sin, but worse than this is the abortion," Sobrinho declared.--

    Uterus of a 9 year old is merely developed, and being pregnant at this age means that a "baby" will die before even the delivery. In addition, this little girl was pregnant for "twins", and you can imagine the chance of a 9 year old girl to survive after forcing a body which weights merely 80lb to deliver the "twins".

    "The heart to commit a sin" cannot be applied to this 9 year old girl for 3 reasons.

    Firstly, she never had any option/choice throughout this whole tragedy; she had absolutely no way whatsoever to escape from being raped (What can a 4'5 feet tall and merely 80lb weighted girl do in front of a 23 year man with healthy body?) Secondly, it was clear that her "twins," or egg I must say, could not have taken a safe course of healthy development, and therefore would have died in the tiny uterus during the pregnancy; the chance of survival was only for the life of the 9 year old girl. Lastly, the girl was first and foremost a serious victim of an incredibly horrifying crime which has been done over 4 years; she has been raped over 4 years.

    I want people to not think this girl as a random child in Brazil, but as your baby sister, cousin, niece, or perhaps a daughter that you have ben completely loving and caring since she was born. Then, this little girl tells you that she has been raped throughout years, and is pregnant with twins. Can anyone look at her eyes straight, and say "Listen, you should deliver the twins, even though there is more chance to die than survive, because avoiding to abort is more important than a worth of your life"? Is it moral? Is it humane? Should a 9 year old girl sacrifices her life in order to be "a good Catholic"?

    We do not exist for rules, rules exist for us to protect ourselves from being killed or damaged. What is a point of morality if life does not exist?

    I am not writing this to you Emmanuel particularly, or trying to change your mind. Don't take this as a personal offense, because that is not my intention. I am expressing myself by using an opportunity to response to your belief.

    By the way, I made a huge mistake in my first comment. The 14 years old sister was mentally disabled. I correct that with my sincere apology.

  6. You know what. I believe you make a valid point but I want to ask what specific moral question you wanted to point out in this situation? Was it the churches action to excommunicate the family or the girls choice to abort the baby? But you know what putting religious views aside, as much possible we want to get the truth. The question is then.. was the abortion the right thing to do regardless of whether a spectator would perceive you as a "Good Catholic" or not? That is the real question because labels mean nothing and do nothing to help us understand what is right or wrong in a situation. I must also thank you for educating me on the dangers of a child pregnancy because it does put things into perspective.

    You mentioned one interesting comment that ties in to Luis question. "What is a point of morality if life does not exist?" If I understand your argument clearly, are you therefore saying that morality is only useful if an individual can benefit from it? That morality is something that is selfish? If for example I was that small girl, and for some strange reason I look at some other baby's eyes and I'm so touched that I decide to give birth even if it means death for me, then does that make me immoral? (Now I know no 9 year old really has the mental capabilities to understand the situation but lets just imagine this is a 9 old with an uncommon strength, and kindness who understands that death means bye bye to this life) According to your statement, my moral act would be pointless because I died in the process.

    If thats the case then, morality seems to be more self-motivated, which then makes Luis initial question (finally) have some truth. "Morality is what people like or dislike" I'm not sure if those are the specific words but this case seems to support it. I would assume that the priests would call the girls actions immoral whilst outsiders would view the girls actions as moral. At this point morality is shaped by beliefs, principles, and emotions therefore making it subjective. Hence, with morality being relative to the individual, should morality even be considered in cases like this? I would argue not. Let's remove manipulative sob stories that toy with emotions and lets remove traditional beliefs that keep us closed minded and ask what is right and what is wrong because that is more important that what is moral or immoral. I introduced right and wrong but I'm too tired to go deeper into what I mean so another time.

  7. What the girl has committed, and what her mother has decided, and what doctors have operated were right things to do, because the girl would have died otherwise.

    If this was not the right thing to do, then it means that people should die for a "right thing."

    It's always hard to argue what is "right" or "wrong, since what is right to me and what is right to others are not the same. However, one thing I am certain is that "right" or "wrong" does not mean anything in front of a dead body. Is a "right thing" really right even if it leads to an extinction of human being?

    I assume a "right" thing can be determined by how much it will promote the greatest happiness to the greatest numbers of people.(I am borrowing Dr.Chaffee's wisdom)

    In this girl's case, the death of the girl would not have promoted any happiness to anybody; therefore, her abortion was a right thing to do, because her life was saved.

    I think you are confused with one thing. The "twins" would not have possibly survived in the little uterus during the pregnancy, and therefore the only life that had a chance to survive was the girl's own life. Regardless of the girl's determination or option to deliver, the "twins" had no chance from the beginning to even develop/grow in the uterus.

  8. Thanks anonymous author for the contribution. Before I make a comment, I do want to say that I do believe that the girls abortion was the right thing to do. After examining the complications, I see the abortion as right.

    Now in response to the two theories proposed, I see a loophole in both.I will recant my earlier statement that morality is relative but still hold the position that morality is different what is universally right or wrong so I'll paint another scenario. Imagine there were 4 passengers inside a boat but for some eerie reason, one person needed to be dropped off to lighten the load. According to utilitarianism, in order for the 3 people to survive 1 person must be sacrificed and most likely the unlikely candidate would have to be forced. I would presume that most people would call the act of forcing one to sacrifice his life as immoral but through thorough examination of the bigger picture, people would say it was the right thing to do.

    As for Kant, truthfully your last statement really speaks against so I don't really want to delve into it. However I do have a problem with your argument that forcing the 9 year to have a baby would be making rape moral. The pregnancy was a consequence of a cruel action but the choice to abort or not abort is an independent choice. Now the woman has the potential to harm another life and just because someone gave the woman this problem still, as much as possible, the assailants action shouldn't the determining factor on what the lady decides to do with the "child to be". Sometimes life throws situations at you that you don't ask for but it is still up to the individual to decide what to do with the situation.

    Before I go, I still have to make a comment about Maki's statement about morality only being beneficial as long as the human being lives. I sure hope you never speak to a soldier or at least to the widow of one because you'd be essentially telling them that what they do is either pointless or not the right thing to do. Is there anything dishonorable or immoral about soldier laying down his life for his nation, for liberty, for freedom? I'm not talking about the clueless boys who fight for an unknown reason but the warrior who knows that he fights for a cause and see death as a sign of their whole hearted devotion to their, to the individuals, to freedom. Even looking back in history, who would dare to call Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Socrates, Jesus Christ and the numerous martyrs that sacrificed their life for a higher purpose immoral. Many of us reap the benefits that are taken for granted. Please I'm just saying this not to pick a fight, but to state that morality is just as useful in life as it is in death, maybe even stronger in death.

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  10. I think you misunderstood me or either I didn't make my point clear. I would never advocate death as a sort of pathway to morality. That is the sort of radical belief the fuels suicide bombers, so I understand the danger in that way of thinking. When I was speaking about death, I guess what I meant to say is that if the individual's death may have a positive impact, that it can be seen as a moral act. Like the boat situation I mentioned, or a soldier dying to save his friend or something.

    One fact I realized is that we still never answered the question on what morality is. Kant's belief and Utitalirianism was thrust into the discussion as a sort of guideline, but no one adhered to a specific position and gave an explicit definition of morality. Therefore without any solid definition, the discussion, as stimulating and engaging as it was, became a mixture of opinions, emotions without a foundation. Therefore, I will attempt to define morality to the best of my ability so that any further discussion won't seem so haphazard.

    I believe an act is moral if:
    a) It benefits the majority
    b) It complies with what is universally right (I'm assuming we all hava a general knowledge of right and wrong)
    c) The individual partaking in the act has the mental capabilities to know right and wrong. (I feel this clause is weak but I felt the need to crank out a third clause, so that any scenario that at least fulfilled 2 out of 3 clauses could be deemed moral based on my definition)

    So I'm no authority but I at least I've stated my assumptions on morality, therefore any future argument I make will be based on my definition.

    (I must say this discussion has allowed me to stretch my mind, and made me think critically)

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  12. Emmanuel, my best friend Steve Howard has served Army of the U.S. for 5 years. He and I talked about those all the time, so your "hope" of me not speaking to a soldier is really silly (I literally laughed). Steve has never ever said that friends he lost in army did a "right" thing; they followed the contract when they joined the army. No one would want to go to a war. Nobody, period. There are people who have not much alternative options but sign up to join the army. Do you seriously think that the U.S. army can recruit people without any money or benefit, but solely for an honor?

    Martin Luther King, Gandhi, or whoever the hero you want to mention, are heros not because of their death, but because of what they have DONE. Nobody is happy about their death; people honor what they have DONE, not their death. We are benefit from people's act, not from from their death. I need to make this clear since you seem to be confused about this.

    Your argument is based on the assumption that people always exist, even if someone committed a "right" thing which has a consequence of taking people's lives away. However, what if someone committed to a "right" thing that turn out to be the end of this planet? I am saying that a "right" or "wrong" thing does not mean anything if we all die.

  13. Hello all. Interesting conversation you guys have going. Mind if I join?

    In response to Emmanuel, you said:

    I believe an act is moral if:
    a) It benefits the majority
    b) It complies with what is universally right (I'm assuming we all hava a general knowledge of right and wrong)

    My problem is with b) in that how can we know what is universally right?

    For instance, it's generally agreed upon that lying is wrong. But, let's say it was WW2 and you were sheltering Jews from the Nazis. The Gestapo knock on your door and ask if you are sheltering Jews. If you lie and say "no" you violate b). If you tell the truth and say "yes", you expose innocent people to undue harm and violate a).

    c) The individual partaking in the act has the mental capabilities to know right and wrong. (I feel this clause is weak but I felt the need to crank out a third clause, so that any scenario that at least fulfilled 2 out of 3 clauses could be deemed moral based on my definition)

    Clause c) of the definition I feel is irrelevant because whether or not the person is competent should not define an act as moral or immoral. If someone commits a murder, it would be considered immoral regardless of the murderer's mental capacity.

  14. Maki said:

    We do not exist for rules, rules exist for us...

    I like that line - nice rhetoric. :)

  15. In response to Maki, you said:

    I assume a "right" thing can be determined by how much it will promote the greatest happiness to the greatest numbers of people.(I am borrowing Dr.Chaffee's wisdom)

    In this girl's case, the death of the girl would not have promoted any happiness to anybody; therefore, her abortion was a right thing to do, because her life was saved.

    Can you state with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that successfully delivering the two twins would've been impossible?

    Because if we assume the girl will die during delivery but she is able to successfully deliver the two twins, it is possible that scenario can produce "the greatest happiness to the greatest numbers of people."

    If that is the case, would you agree that it is morally right for her to not get the abortion?

  16. Before I make my statement, I would like say something. I believe this blog was created for peers to have a discussion in a safe, respectful environment where we could share opinions on topics. I don't believe the point of this blog was to have people flaunting their egos and throwing condescending remarks therefore your little quip about my "hope" being silly, was rather unnecessary, but believe me I wont take it personal.

    However back to the topic. You've a made generalized statement that you can't support. You said no one wants to be in a war and soldiers see their fighting for their country only as a contractual. Can you confidently say that every soldier, not just in America, but in the world and back in history, saw being a soldier as a contractual agreement? That no soldier ever believed in what that they fought for but only saw it as a duty forced upon them? If you can answer yes with 100% confidence, then forgive me for my skepticism when I know of counterarguments that I won't mention.

    Secondly, I think we have a flawed perception of life and death. To argue my point I will turn to nature. Imagine I see the sun shining brightly today and say "This is some nice weather" whiles tomorrow there's a storm and I "This is some bad weather". To any spectator, this may seem like a reasonable comment but looking at those statements objectively, I realize how absurd those statements are. Just because the sun shines brightly, does it make it good? And just because the rain pours excessively, does that make it bad? No because they are fulfilling the laws of nature. Imagine the audacity of man shaking his fist to a tornado and shouting angrily "Why did you do this to me?" If the tornado had a mouth I could imagine its response going something like, "Dude I'm wind. I blow. It's part of my nature. What else do you expect me to do?" Now to connect it to life and death. The anonymous author (and Maki), I believe would agree that life is better death. My next question is, in what sense? In the same sense that a sunny day is "better" than a stormy day. Don't you see the flaw in that? Is life and death nothing more than a fulfilment of the laws of nature? Yes, life is a more desirable condition but does that actually make it better? Does life automatically mean "good" and death automatically mean "bad"? No because it is what it is. Therefore the only judgement we can make about life and death is based on the consequences.

    Now I'll tie in my statement on morality. Now in the paragraph above, I basically point out that making judgements on nature is pointless because nature is nature. However we can place judgements on the consequences so imagine the same man says that "The storm is bad" The implication is that the storm is bad not because its nature is bad, but maybe because it makes visibilty poor, makes the road slippery, and floods buildings. On that case, the man would have a point because of the negative impact it had on society. Therefore, through that same reasoning, I would jugde a scenario. So imagine a soldier sees a grenade thrown at his squad and within a split second he decides to jump on it to save his buddies. Lets say he lives miraculously, the consequence is that he saved everyone including himself. However imagine the alternative where he dies, but the alternative is that he saves his friends. The man dies, but you know what, people live and people die, its nature (very cold but you forced me to come down this road). However, people, I believe, would say that was a moral act because of the consequence, because of his act and that is my point about death. You've twisted my argument and made it seem as though I support death for no rational reason. As if I would support a madman with a nuclear weapon because I believe death is honorable. I have no opinion on death because death is a force of nature which will whether when it choses. What I'm more concerned about is the results and even in my definition of a moral act, I state that a moral act is one that benefits the majority. Sometimes that result comes through life, sometimes through death.

    Now for Vincent. Trust me, I knew there were loopholes in my definition but I presented that definition as a sort of guideline. It is not a rigid rule I made for the sake of being rigid, but so that someone could build upon what I said, rephrase what I said, delete some what I said and present some of their own ideas. So if anyone responds to this, present your definition and lets work from there...if not then I'm pretty much done with this conversation.

  17. This post was intended to provoke debate, not for people to take offense to someone's challenge. For clarification, everyone can disagree on the merits of another person's argument and thus attempt to highlight the weaknesses in that argument. Additionally, please join the discussion mindful that people who hold different view points will strongly and cogently argue for their own position. That said, there is a marked difference between attacking an argument and attacking a point of view. The latter will always be the case in a healthy debate. Lastly, I appeal to all bloggers to continue to contribute to the conversation in hopes of broadening our collective understanding of these most important issues.

  18. I want to just apologize for my last statement I made. I may have got a little carried away and so I didn't mean to end the conversation abruptly. If anyone still wants to argue over the topics, I'm still open to debate.

  19. I'll respond when I have some time - I really like this topic.

  20. I was not aware I initiated such a heated debate. I was so busy with the convention. I hope I can sit down and read all of these posts.

  21. "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, nothing entirely straight can be built." --Immanuel Kant
    "One thing I only know, and that is that I know nothing." --Socrates
    It is so incredible to obeserve the human spirit being exemplified: The unbreakable conviction that one is right, and the others are wrong. (And probably I am wrong).
    In response to the quotes, I remember from my HUP101 class that once Socrates diproved that morality was doing what was right for the majority because the majority may make mistakes and pick something that is actually wrong for them. Subsequently, obeying what the majority picked would actually be a contradiction because it would mean doing what the majority pick, but at the same time doing what is wrong for them.
    Then, can we say that people are born to be moral? Probably I am a very evil person, but my instincts do not tell me not to damage anybody. My instincs tell me to search my own good in my own way and they do not mention anything about not hurting anyone.
    Reason is the one that tells me that hurting persons is probably wrong because I am a person myself and persons happen to don't like anyone hurting them.


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