3.3 What are some Sources of our Morality?


By the end of this section you will discover:

  • Some possible sources from which we get our morality.
  • That ethics is not the same as received morality.
  • Reasons why learning to think ethically and come up with moral judgments is better than relying on other sources of morality.


Ponder if you will…

  • What would the world be like if it was held that nothing is true?
  • From where did you acquire your moral beliefs? Can you suggest several sources?
  • What can cause people to reject or alter their inherited moral beliefs?
  • How do we know our moral beliefs are the correct moral beliefs?
  • Does the fact that our predecessors or peers believed them justify our moral beliefs?
  • If we cannot always rely upon our inherited moral beliefs, how can we pursue moral decisions in a more philosophical way?

Morality entails a system of values and beliefs that we begin to learn at a very early age.  Our first instructors are most likely our parents or those who reared us.  Later we may learn from peers, our school teachers, from the media.

But, how do we know that those beliefs and values are correct? How could we justify our holding them if and when they are challenged by others or by difficult moral dilemmas?

Ethics differs from morality in that ethics uses reasoning to determine for ourselves which of our earlier, inherited beliefs are morally feasible.  This chapter will help you to discover a few core ethical principles to aid you in such reasoning when we explore Objective Ethics.  There are several reasons why developing a deeper understanding of ethical thinking is viewed as better than simply following one’s unexamined, inherited moral beliefs:

  1. It allows you to critically assess the reasons and justification for moral rules rather than just accepting them because of custom or authority.
  2. Ethical thinking allows you to explore different ethical perspectives and can reveal unintended biases, contradictions, and consequences of inherited moral intuitions developed under specific social conditions.
  3. Abstract ethical reasoning allows you to more consistently apply moral principles across diverse contexts rather than just react from habit.
  4. The moral self-understanding achieved through philosophical reflection allows you better to integrate ethics with individual lifestyle, relationships and personal growth.
  5. Given ethical disagreements both within and between societies, ethical thinking can ground ethical understanding in reason and help you avoid moral relativism.

Overall, while inherited ethics maintain order through social consensus, traditions risk sustaining injustices, or lose relevance. Developed ethical understanding, anchored in reason and wisdom about human well-being, allows adapting morality for continued social improvement.

But first, we should look at some problems with our inherited moral beliefs.


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PPSC PHI 1011: The Philosopher's Quest by Daniel G. Shaw, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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