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What Is Morality? Essay

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Updated: Jun 11th, 2021

The debate on morality has been described by experts as emotive and controversial. This is partly because different groups have different perceptions of the two concepts that are entrenched in political, social, and cultural biases. For example, the discussion on whether the LGBT group should be granted a free space, similar to the one heterosexuals have in society, has elicited an unending argument in many parts of the world (Appiah, 2010).

Religious groups assert that God created man and woman for them to complement each other sexually, both for enjoyment and reproduction. Such groups continue to argue that if that was not the case, then God would have created two men or two women. The aim of this paper is to contribute to the discussion by attempting to give an insight into what constitutes moral and immoral behavior as well as the relationship that exists between morality and religion.

The Definition of Morality

The concept of morality has been dealt with in great depth by scholars from varied disciplines. Despite this, no consensus has been reached on the precise definition of morality as different people have their own unique views on the topic. Since there is no particular definition that cuts across all disciplines, how a person comprehends or internalizes issues relating to morality is highly determined by, among other factors, where they come from, their expertise, and their religious orientation. Their religious extraction further depends on the extent to which they are rooted in spiritual issues.

Rachels and Rachels (1986) recognize the ambiguity that exists in the definition of morality. While the authors agree that it is difficult to come up with the exact definition of what constitutes morality, they also assert that the subject is closely interlinked with reasoning and impartiality. In this regard, Rachels and Rachels (1986) argue that individual consideration of moral behavior must be backed by sufficient reasons. If the reasons are valid to the other parties involved, then the stand of the first person is deemed moral. On the contrary, any reason or action that is not agreed upon by all parties involved in such a debate must be countered by an opposing view.

The authors use the case of Baby Jane Doe, who was born handicapped, as an example. Doctors, family, and human rights activists could not agree on whether the baby should have undergone surgery to try and repair her deformity or not. Ultimately, the family agreed with the suggestion of one of the consulting doctors to withhold any surgical solution on the handicapped child until more tests were done. According to Rachels and Rachels (1986), one could argue that the decision was a moral one as it upheld the sanctity of life. However, the possible suffering of the baby due to the deformity presents an angle that can be used to claim that the decision was immoral.

Like Rachels and Rachels (1986), Shafer-Landau (2015) admits that there is no widely agreed-upon definition of morality. However, the scholar argues that the concept of morality can be defined by asking ethical questions (such as fairness and service to others) or by comparing moral principles with those that surround the law, self-interest, etiquette, and tradition. Even so, Shafer-Landau (2015) clearly asserts that morality and the law are very distinct because some immoral acts, such as infidelity, are not unlawful and vice versa.

Consequently, Shafer-Landau (2015) concurs with Rachels and Rachels’ (1986) view on moral reasoning. Like any other argument, moral reasoning involves a culmination of reasons and assumptions that these reasons are meant to support a way of doing things. In simple terms, Shafer-Landau (2015) contends that human beings have no moral duties and should be free from moral criticism. Indeed, since humans are moral agents, their behaviors should be guided by the ethical decisions they make. Moreover, these moral decisions should not work against other people as all human lives are sacred.

Morality, Religion and Social Norms

As Rachels and Rachels (1986) point out, it is nearly impossible to distinguish between the tenets of morality and religion as the two are intertwined. As a matter of fact, religious leaders are considered to have better insight into morality than other people in society. This is not merely because they are thought to have good morals but because they are believed to understand the complexities of the same.

What Rachels and Rachels (1986) try to portray is that although religion and morality are related concepts, the choice of behavior lies with an individual and is based mainly on the individual’s social norms. God does not force people to follow his commands, but they must be prepared to bear the consequences of their actions if they do not. Perhaps, it is the fear of the repercussions of immorality that makes some people more committed to Christianity than others.

To sum it all, the definition of the concept of morality is ambiguous. However, given the discussion above, one can elucidate the meaning of morality by using the related concept of moral reasoning. What is considered morally right or wrong depends on the ability to defend one’s actions. Nevertheless, regardless of the reasons, people are generally expected to act with impartiality, recognizing the fact that human life is sacred, and success or happiness must not be obtained at the expense of other people. Further, basic common sense requires people to carry themselves in such a manner that ensures both their dignity and fairness to others.


Appiah, K. A., (2010). What were we thinking? Dallas News. Web.

Rachels, J., & Rachels, S. (1986). The elements of moral philosophy. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Shafer-Landau, R. (2015). The fundamentals of ethics. London: Oxford University Press.

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