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Human Morality & Social Justice


Human Morality and Social Justice
Before dwelling on the subject of human morality and social justice it is imperative to understand what moral means. Moral as an adjective means of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong; ethical; of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behaviour. A moral being is one who is capable of conforming to the rules of right conduct. A moral man conforms to the rules of right conduct (opposed to immoral).

Moral obligations are founded on the fundamental principles of right conduct rather than on legalities, enactment, or custom. It is sanctioned by or operative on one's conscience or ethical judgment i.e., it arises from conscience or the sense of right and wrong. Moral victory is perceptual or psychological rather than tangible or practical in nature or effect.

Having understood the meaning of moral, let us understand what morality is. Morality is derived from the Latin word moralitas meaning "manner, character, and proper behavior". It is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are "good" (or right) and those that are "bad" (or wrong). The philosophy of morality is ethics. A moral code is a system of morality (according to a particular philosophy, religion, culture, etc.) and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code. Morality may also be specifically synonymous with "goodness" or "rightness." Immorality is the active opposition to morality (i.e. opposition to that which is good or right), while amorality is variously defined as an unawareness of, indifference toward, or disbelief in any set of moral standards or principles. An example of a moral code is the Golden Rule which states that, "One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself."

Thus morality is quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct. It means virtuous conduct.

For a topic as subjective as morality, people sure have strong beliefs about what's right and wrong. Morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes. Several innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of ―intuitive ethics.‖ Each culture then constructs virtues, narratives, and institutions on top of these foundations, thereby creating the unique moralities we see around the world, and conflicting within nations too.

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The foundations are care or harm, fairness or cheating, liberty or oppression, loyalty or betrayal, authority or subversion, sanctity or degradation.

The foundation of care or harm is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance. Foundation of fairness/cheating is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. Originally, fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, now, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone.

The foundation of liberty/oppression is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor. Foundation of loyalty/betrayal is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one."

Authority/subversion was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions. The foundation of sanctity or degradation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

Two of the most important, vexing, and divisive topics in human life are politics and religion. Politics and religion are both expressions of our underlying moral psychology, and an understanding of that psychology can help to bring people together. We are downright lucky that we evolved this complex moral psychology that allowed our species to burst out of the forests and savannas and into the delights, comforts, and extraordinary peacefulness of modern societies in just the last few thousand years. The human mind is designed to ―do‖ morality, just as it‘s designed to do language, sexuality, music, and many other things. But human nature is not just intrinsically moral; it‘s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental. The word righteous comes from the old Norse word rettviss and Page | 3

the old English word rihtwis, both of which meant ―just, upright, virtuous.‖ This meaning has been carried into the modern English words righteous and righteousness, although nowadays those words have strong religious connotations.

The linkage of righteousness and judgmentalism is captured in some modern definitions of righteous, such as ―arising from an outraged sense of justice, morality, or fair play.‖ The link also appears in the term self-righteous, which means ―convinced of one‘s own righteousness, especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others; narrowly moralistic and intolerant.‖ An obsession with righteousness, leading inevitably to self-righteousness, is the normal human condition. It is a feature of our evolutionary design, not a bug or error that crept into minds that would otherwise be objective and rational. Our righteous minds made it possible for human beings—but no other animals—to produce large cooperative groups, tribes, and nations without the glue of kinship. But at the same time, our righteous minds guarantee that our cooperative groups will always be cursed by moralistic strife. Some degree of conflict among groups may even be necessary for the health and development of any society. I wished for a world in which competing ideologies are kept in balance, systems of accountability keep us all from getting away with too much, and fewer people believe that righteous ends justify violent means.

There are three principles of moral psychology. The first principle is that moral intuitions arise automatically and almost instantaneously, long before moral reasoning has a chance to get started, and those first intuitions tend to drive our later reasoning. Keep your eye on the intuitions, and don‘t take people‘s moral arguments at face value. They‘re mostly post-hoc constructions made up on the fly, crafted to advance one or more strategic objectives. The second principle is that there‘s more to morality than harm and fairness. The righteous mind is not only concerned about harm and suffering, or about fairness and injustice but so many other powerful moral intuitions, such as those related to liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

The third principle states that morality binds and blinds. Human nature was produced by natural selection working at two levels simultaneously. Individuals compete with individuals within every group, and we are the descendants of primates who excelled at that competition. This gives us the ugly side of our nature. We are indeed selfish hypocrites so skilled at putting on a show of virtue that we fool even ourselves. But human nature was also shaped as groups competed with other groups. Page | 4

As Darwin said long ago, the most cohesive and cooperative groups generally beat the groups of selfish individualists. We‘re not always selfish hypocrites. We also have the ability, under special circumstances, to shut down our petty selves and become like cells in a larger body, or like bees in a hive, working for the good of the group. Our bee-like nature facilitates altruism, heroism, war, and genocide.

Human morality is a key evolutionary adaptation on which human social behaviour has been based. Ethical behaviour is constitutive of human nature. Human morality is as important an adaptation as human cognition and speech. Ethical behaviour need not be a means toward personal gain. Because of our nature as moral beings, humans take pleasure in acting ethically and are pained when acting unethically. From an evolutionary viewpoint, ethical behaviour was fitness-enhancing in the years marking the emergence of Homo sapiens because human groups with many altruists fared better than groups of selfish individuals.

The difference of being human is that we are moral beings and capable of morality. Of all the differences between man and the lower animals the moral sense or conscience is by far the most important. The capacity for ethics is a necessary attribute of human nature, whereas moral codes are products of cultural evolution. Humans have a moral sense because their biological makeup determines the presence of three necessary conditions for ethical behavior:    the ability to anticipate the consequences of one's own actions; the ability to make value judgments; and the ability to choose between alternative courses of action.

Ethical behavior came about in evolution as a necessary consequence of man's eminent intellectual abilities. Moral codes, however, are outcomes of cultural evolution, which accounts for the diversity of cultural norms among populations and for their evolution through time. People have moral values; that is, they accept standards according to which their conduct is judged as right or wrong, good or evil. The particular norms by which moral actions are judged vary to some extent from individual to individual and from culture to culture. Some norms, such as not to kill, not to steal, and to honor one's parents, are widespread and perhaps universal. Value judgments concerning human behavior are passed in all cultures. This universality shows that the moral sense is part of human nature, one more dimension of our biological make-up; and ethical values may be products of biological evolution rather than being given by religious and other cultural traditions.

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Normative ethics refers to the rules or laws that determine what we ought to do. Practical ethics considers the application of moral norms to particular situations, which often involve conflicting values: will abortion be justified to save the life of the mother?

But humans have no monopoly on moral behavior. Even Dogs rescue their friends and elephants care for injured kin. Kindness and patience seem to have a clear moral dimension. They are forms of what we might call ‗concern‘ — emotional states that have as their focus the wellbeing of another — and concern for the welfare of others lies at the heart of morality.

We're a species that is capable of almost dumbfounding kindness. We nurse one another, romance one another, and weep for one another. Ever since science taught us how, we willingly tear the very organs from our bodies and give them to one another. And at the same time, we slaughter one another. The past 15 years of human history we've visited untold horrors on ourselves, all of the crimes committed by the highest, wisest, most principled species the planet has produced. That we're also the lowest, cruelest, most blood-drenched species is our shame—and our paradox.

The deeper that science drills into the substrata of behavior, the harder it becomes to preserve the vanity that we are unique among Earth's creatures. What does, or ought to, separate us is our highly developed sense of morality, a primal understanding of good and bad, of right and wrong, of what it means to suffer not only our own pain but also the pain of others. That quality is the distilled essence of what it means to be human. Why it's an essence that so often spoils, no one can say.

Morality may be a hard concept to grasp, but we acquire it fast. A preschooler will learn that it's not all right to eat in the classroom, because the teacher says it's not. If the rule is lifted and eating is approved, the child will happily comply. But if the same teacher says it's also O.K. to push another student off a chair, the child hesitates. He'll respond, ―No, the teacher shouldn't say that.‖ In both cases, somebody taught the child a rule, but the rule against pushing has a stickiness about it, one that resists coming unstuck even if someone in authority countenances it. That's the difference between a matter of morality and one of mere social convention, and kids feel it innately. Of course, the fact is, that child will sometimes hit and won't feel particularly bad about it either — unless he's caught. The same is true for people who steal or despots who slaughter. Moral judgment is pretty consistent from person to person. Moral behavior, however, is scattered all over the chart. The rules we know, even the ones we intuitively feel, are by no means the rules we always follow.

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Social justice is defined as justice exercised within a society, particularly as it is exercised by and among the various social classes of that society. A socially just society is defined by its advocates and practioners as being based on the principles of equality and solidarity; this pedagogy also maintains that the socially just society both understands and values human rights, as well as recognizing the dignity of every human being.

But unfortunately, in the recent times our society has grown in such a way that we have begun to evaluate individuals on the basis of their economic status. Due to this fact, the society has been polluted by such crimes which have made a certain sect of the society which commit them, unfit to live with the rest of us. But we have established a system under the belief that those individuals can be rectified if they are given a punishment according to the crimes which they commit so that they may realize their mistakes and start leading their life on a correct path. Unfortunate circumstances although have lead to development of such mentality among us that we do not mind adopting paths which are not correct or rather inhumane without any remorse.

Individual morality provides the basis of decisions of and judgments by the individual: honesty, loyalty, good faith, being responsible. Social morality - Fairness is one basis of law, which helps to govern society and to control individual behavior. Social morality considers whether an action threatens society‘s well-being. Individual morality and social morality may conflict. Is the free downloading or sharing of music from the Internet a copyright violation? Should the government regulate non-harmful sexual acts by consenting adults in their own homes or adults reading pornography at home?

Right and wrong depend on the social or moral commitments of the individual. Right and wrong vary pending on the particular situation. Moral norms vary by culture; right and wrong depend on the moral norms of the society: female infanticide in China, sati in India, slavery. Absolute standards exist by which all rules, commitments and behaviour can be judged. The fact that moral commitments vary in different societies does not mean that morality is relative, just as the fact that scientific beliefs may differ in various societies does not prove that scientific truth is relative.

The rules that most of us think of as morality are based on principles. The principle of utility or the principle of greatest happiness is one of the principles. Our happiness and the happiness of those affected by our choices must guide our choices and actions. Society creates and follows rules for maximizing the happiness of the greatest number of its citizens. But there are objections to this principle. Whose happiness is paramount? We borrow money and promise to repay it in a week. Can Page | 7

we break our promise to repay one person because we can spend the money to benefit more people? Which takes precedence–our happiness or others‘ happiness? Aren‘t we more likely to buy our own family presents rather than give the same money to poor strangers? Which takes precedent –fairness or the greatest happiness? What about medical experiments on a small group with the goal of benefitting the whole society? Fairness is the Golden Rule. Often this becomes in our decision making what you don‘t want to be done to you. The objection to this principle is that do others necessarily want what we want? Some people prefer to be told a lie rather than have to deal with an unpleasant or ugly truth, like a serious illness.

Respect for persons is another principle. We must respect the wishes of others. How the other person feels about being lied to is more important than how the potential liar feels about lying. It is immoral to use other people solely and merely to achieve your own ends. We must recognize others as autonomous. We may use a mechanic to fix our cars because he is paid for his work. The objection to this principle is that it does not apply to animals.

The human good principle emphasizes, not obligations, but character traits and activities which result in a good life. Everything in nature has a purpose, e.g., an acorn‘s purpose is to become an oak. The natural purpose of human beings is defined in various ways–to achieve happiness, say, or to fulfill social roles. We make judgments based on the role someone plays: a good or bad basketball player, surgeon, son or daughter, spouse, parent, student, neighbour, co-worker, citizen, politician, soldier. Virtue is achieving excellence in a social role.

According to the principle of will of God, God as the creator of human beings is the ultimate source of morality.

Moral principles are applied by society. Such as the principle of social justice. There is general agreement on the need for social justice but wide divergence of opinion on what constitutes social justice.

In accordance with the principle of individual rights citizens are guaranteed individual rights e.g., freedom of speech, of religion and of assembly. Many theories justifying individual rights have been offered.

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The general welfare is another principle. Every level of government should promote the general welfare. What kind of government would do this, how the government would do this, and what specifically promotes the general welfare are debatable.

Also the principle of pluralism and freedom is applied. Unlike the preceding principles, which assume the necessity for governmental action, the principle of pluralism and the principle of freedom discourage governmental action and they tend to reinforce and support each other. In a pluralistic society, a strong central government is replaced by many independent sources of power and action; no one institution has power over the others. The principle of freedom allows individuals to pursue their own ends in their own ways, with little or no governmental restrictions.

The concept of social justice has come under criticism from a variety of perspectives. Many authors criticize the idea that there exists an objective standard of social justice. Moral relativists deny that there is any kind of objective standard for justice in general. Cynics believe that any ideal of social justice is ultimately a mere justification for the status quo.

Many other people accept some of the basic principles of social justice, such as the idea that all human beings have a basic level of value, but disagree with the elaborate conclusions that may or may not follow from this. One example is the statement that all people are equally entitled to the respect of their fellowmen. On the other hand, some scholars reject the very idea of social justice as meaningless, religious, self-contradictory, and ideological, believing that to realize any degree of social justice is unfeasible, and that the attempt to do so must destroy all liberty.

Social justice is also a concept that is used to describe the movement towards a socially just world, i.e., the Global Justice Movement. In this context, social justice is based on the concepts of human rights and equality, and can be defined as "the way in which human rights are manifested in the everyday lives of people at every level of society".

A number of movements are working to achieve social justice in society. These movements are working towards the realization of a world where all members of a society, regardless of background or procedural justice, have basic human rights and equal access to the benefits of their society. I would like to conclude by quoting Albert Einstein: ―What the individual can do is to give a fine example, and to have the courage to uphold ethical values in a society of cynics.‖ (Albert Einstein, letter to Max Born.) Page | 9

―Only the individual can think, and thereby create new values for society, nay, even set up new moral standards to which the life of the community conforms. ... The ideals which have lighted my way and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty and Truth.‖ (Albert Einstein, 1954)

According to Albert Einstein, there is nothing divine about morality; it is a purely human affair.

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