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Which Morality Is Moral

October 5, 2010
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Throughout our recent discussions, blog posts, and readings, we have repeatedly dealt with the concept of morality. While there has not been any consistent definition of what exactly is considered to be moral, two general sides have come about: That of Martin Luther King Jr. and Socrates in which morality is when one acts in accordance with god and does unto others as they would themselves, etc… and the differing camp of Machiavelli that the ends always justify the means and if a person is successfully ruling an area efficiently, then they must be acting moral. While these general statements are not meant to fully describe any of the listed thinker’s theories, they do show the conflicting nature of their views and it is evident that one cannot be true if the other is. In keeping with the Oxford Dictionary definition of the word morality as “the extent to which an action is right or wrong,” this crude assessment of their views provides a forum for which we can derive which theory fits more accordingly: morality as a lofty set of ideals, or morality as a more economic model in which tradeoffs and end results dictate what is right.

It is easy to immediately side with the views of MLK and Socrates. Indeed, it is in our very human nature to want their views to be right. Of course morality should be about helping the little guy, being a great neighbor, and everything you learned in kindergarten, etc… But, is this truly right? Obviously no one is going to argue against charity and general good will, but is it ok when the wealthy are forced to pay a higher tax percentage, while the poor may be relieved of taxes entirely? MLK told us that an unjust law is any law that does not apply to everyone equally, so where does this fall on the spectrum. Furthermore, is it right when money is appropriated out of the funding for the research and development of weaponry in a nations defense and then put into education, social welfare, and other programs that do not affect the entire population equally? Or that the army supplies its troops with armor produced by the lowest bidder, so that saved money may be utilized elsewhere? If a president set up a tax that was then entirely used as a charitable donation outside of the US, would that be right? It’s easy to write these questions off as the rich simply wanting to stay richer, but in general is it wrong to use immoral means to preserve moral ends?

Contrastingly, it is in our nature to view Machiavelli Hobbes as immoral and perhaps savage in his belief of “kind to be cruel” and “the ends always justify the means.” Yet, it is unclear if these methods are truly wrong. Machiavelli repeatedly makes it clear that in order for power to be retained, one’s subjects should always be kept in good favor. Additionally, his instances in which acting cruel is accepted all pertain to the rulers struggle for and retention of said power; so is it safe to say that so long as a Machiavellian ruler has power they are being right? For if they have power they must be acting well upon their people, for it is this that is their direct source of power. Is it wrong of them to use cruel measures to keep this power that above all they need to act right to keep?

2 Comments
  1. blanchc permalink
    October 6, 2010 1:17 AM

    I think that this article brings up an interesting point about morality. I also believe that the morality debate could be taken a step further. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Socrates’ definitions of morality are both quite vague. It’s quite easy to simply say “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, but it’s much more difficult to be specific about what that really entails. Even in today’s society there are ongoing debates addressing morally ambiguous issues. Is the death penalty morally right? How about euthanasia? Abortion? Even on a more individual level we face moral dilemmas every day. Ultimately, how can you define doing the right thing, or being a morally upstanding person? And who gets to decide what that is?

  2. jptrue permalink
    October 6, 2010 12:30 PM

    This article is a great look into morality given the lenses we have been presented in this class. Your discussion of morality using the ideas of Machiavelli (which have no intention of being analyzed as moral), especially the idea that perhaps his beliefs were moral are intriguing.

    However, you have to be careful not to confuse making people happy with being moral. For example, you can ensure and protect people’s well being by being immoral. For instance, what if there was a single person trying to start a rebellion in your society? You could kill this person and call it protecting the well being of the people, rationalizing that it will spare additional innocent lives and resources. While the action may be received positively by your subjects, and not viewed as cruel since it was measured a necessary action…is the fact that you killed a innocent person erased? No, its a immoral act still. Machiavelli would not care about the morality of the action, and only believe that it was virtuous. Thus we can see that Machiavelli’s belief that we should strive for virtue can directly interfere with living morally.

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