What Is "Morality"?

Morality in Plain English: A Confusing Word, Clarified

"Human beings, all over the earth,
have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way,
and cannot really get rid of it."
- C. S. Lewis

It's very important that you do the right thing. You often don't know what the right thing is
until after you do it. Therefore, it is very important for you to know what you don't know.

article by Blake

"The most important human endeavor
is the striving for morality in our actions.
Our inner balance, and even our very existence depends on it.
Only morality in our actions
can give beauty and dignity to our lives."
- Albert Einstein

"Morality" often seems like a word that's "wrong" to even bring up nowadays.

Why is that?

Well, maybe the way things are in modern times, the whole issue of "morality" is as confusing as it ever has been in the history of the planet . . . not that we're (gasp) JUDGING it or anything . . .

"Similar to the concepts of virtue and vice,
[justice and injustice] are purely local and geographical;
that which is vicious in Paris turns up, as we know,
a virtue in Peking, and it is quite the same thing here;
that which is just in Isfahan
they call unjust in Copenhagen.
Amidst these manifold variations
do we discover anything constant?"
- Marquis de Sade

But still...

What is it in movies that makes the good guys, "good"?
And what is it in movies that makes the bad guys, "bad"?

Maybe asking questions like this are wrong .. . .
(- well, we weren't really sure if it was or not.)

So the key question is still sitting there way in the back corner of our brains, quietly asking: how should we live? And why?

These days, the most "simple" and "obvious" questions often seem to get harder and harder to answer. In America today, hundreds of cultures and moral codes are colliding into a kind of moral casserole, and many of us disagree on such fundamental things as "how to act" and "how to treat each other" . . . almost to the point that almost everyone almost needs a daily class in diplomacy to keep up with it all. Still, few people seem to be aware of the extent and depth of confusion and disagreement on these basic issues.

Here at LiveReal, ever searching for the Big-Burrito answers, we're just trying to get to the root of the matter: What is the best way to live? When we disagree on fundamentals, how should we treat each other?

So here is the quiz, and if we're wrong for doing this kind of thing . . . well . . .


What Is "Morality"?
(multiple choice format)

A) The opposite of "fun."

B) Morality is the way everyone else thinks we should be

C) Morality is the way we think everyone else should be

D) Something few people really speak about with much confidence any more, except when they're saying nobody should judge anybody.

You must conquer your animal nature.

E) Morality is a way that unhappy old folks enjoy making young folks unhappy too.

F) Whatever I do, or have done in the past, is what is "right" . . . and whatever you or anybody else does - or has done - that ticks me off, is "wrong."

G) Morality is a set of rules given by a higher authority; if you conform to them, you will be rewarded; if you don't conform to them, you will be punished.

H) "Who are you to judge me?" - It's something that inherently implies "judging" other people . . . and judging other people is immoral . . . so therefore, morality is . . . immoral.

I) It's whatever or whoever we "would" be, if we could ever just summon up enough willpower.

J) It doesn't matter what it is, because we're all going to do whatever we feel like anyway.

K) It's something none of us equally know anything about, a.k.a. Moral Flatland.

L) Whatever it is, just don't "impose" it on someone else, or you're accused of being evil (a.k.a. really immoral).

M) A description for the way we learn to act, usually learned from television, movies, peers, songs, and commercials.

N) What a prude uses to rationalize being a prude.

O) An arbitrary set of rules which act as the glue of a community, a.k.a., a social contract where different parties, human or animal, agree on.

P) Morality is the effort to make yourself into what you are not, and failing.

Q) Morality is the systematic imposition, by political leaders and parents, of their own agenda to which you either conform or rebel.

R) Morality is the ritual suppression of pleasure.

S) A predictable way for one person or group of people to regularly feel superior to another person or group of people.

T) H. G. Wells: "Jealousy with a halo."

U) Morality is the inner battle between the self (interest/indulgence) and duty - and choosing duty.

V) It's Moral Flatland, or everyone pretending not to judge or even have an opinion of anyone else. (In other words, all human beings are equally ignorant regarding moral absolutes, and therefore have no right to comment upon the process for others (i.e. Mother Theresa is equal to Adolf Hitler).

W) It's an illusion. a.k.a., just do whatever you please. If it turns out you did something wrong, you can get off the hook by pleading ignorance, claiming to be a victim, or denying it ever happened. If none of that works, hey, just ask for forgiveness.

X) It's essentially a kind of cosmic economic model, a.k.a., Blockbuster Morality: you're free to keep the movie an extra day or two, but you have to pay the late fee.

Y) Morality is the process of internalizing and identifying with the prohibitions, rules, values, and preferences of one's parents and of society at large.

Z) Morality is a way for one person or set of persons to control another person or set of persons through skillful tactics of inducing fear, peer pressure, confusion, dependency, helplessness, or guilt.

AAZ) Bertrand Russell: "The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience."

BB) Morality is having a map of various debaucheries and stupidities that people get into, and delighting in pointing such foibles out to them.

CC) Morality is the enforcement of conduct through a type of coercive agency or police force, whether that force is physical and external or is a force inside oneself.

DD) Morality is a host of various actions we pursue in order to become more intelligent and aware, or at least, less unconscious and ignorant, than we presently are.

EE) Morality is "the rules" as decided by whichever authority, human or otherwise, is currently in power.

FF) Morality is the theory that whatever you do, whether through nature, karma, divine authority, or some other means, eventually catches up to you.

GG) Morality is knowing which side of a temptation is wrong, and resisting it.

HH) Ernest Hemingway: "I only know that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

II) An inner quality of heart and character that emerges by aligning your character with true principles.

JJ) H. L. Mencken: ". . . the theory that every human act must be either right or wrong, and that 99 percent of them are wrong."

KK) It's much less a matter of what you do as it is of what you become; meaning, become a "good person," and everything else takes care of itself.

LL) George Bernard Shaw: "I never resist temptation because I have found that things that are bad for me never tempt me."

MM) It's a natural way of acting for those who understand the principles of psychological health.

NN) Kohlberg: a series of predictable stages of growth and maturity that, given proper conditions, we naturally and sequentially evolve through.

OO) It's treating other people the same way you would want to be treated, assuming that you want to be treated in a certain way, because that's the rules.

PP) It's the rationalization for a habit of attacking and feeling superior to any other person who judges, criticizes, comments upon, or even perceives certain differences between people.

QQ) It's treating other people the same way you would want to be treated, because when you really examine it closely, you sense, or even perceive, that other people actually are "yourself."

RR) A quality of character that emerges naturally when you've got your head screwed on right and your heart in the right place.

SS) Doing the greatest good for the greatest number, whatever that is.

TT) It's a style of living in a way that makes your soul grow, thrive, and blossom, or at the very least, a style of living that keeps your soul intact.

UU) A systematic, reliable method or formula for living the best life possible.

VV) A continual practice of rising above one's animal, selfish, or "lower" nature.

WW) We always worry about keeping our body clean; what about doing the same for our emotions, thoughts, and actions?

XX) An Absolute Law, which just happened to originate somewhere near your hometown.

YY) Confucius: "Rare are those who understand virtue."

ZZ) We naturally avoid, whenever we can, breathing polluted air, and eating rotten, stinky, moldy food . . . why would it be any different for our thoughts and feelings?

AAA) A saying that basically refers to keeping your nose clean.

BBB) Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "What we use to justify what we are doing anyway."

CCC) It's a practice of discrimination that is practiced in one form or another at all levels of nature: every animal prefers certain food over other food; your stomach accepts some food and rejects some; every businessman considers many different courses of action and picks one; every person decides to wear certain clothes instead of others, etc, etc.

DDD) A practice of responding perfectly to imperfect situations.

EEE) Sandor Minab: "Nothing determines who we will become so much as those things we choose to ignore."

FFF) It's something people ordinarily don't take too seriously, until they have kids.

GGG) Living in such a way that you are in harmony with your "conscience." Or in other words, living in such a way that cultivates freedom from inner conflict. (See also UUU)

HHH) Morality is a habit of refusing to settle for any of the booby prizes that life is constantly offering you.

III) Living with real "faith."

JJJ) It's the most efficient type of psychotherapy possible: preventing problems and issues from ever coming up in the first place.

KKK) D.H. Lawrence: "Supposing, then, that I cannot see this Saviour and Salvation stuff, supposing that I see the soul as something which must be developed and fulfilled throughout a life-time, sustained and nourished, developed and further fulfilled, to the very end; what then?"

LLL) There are people who give you the creeps, and their "morality" or lack of it is what made them that way.

MMM) William Blake: "Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules."

NNN) It is a scientifically mathematical system of probabilities (still in the phase of what might be called a "young discipline") what might which improve your probability, or increase your chances, of having a life well-lived.

OOO) Henry David Thoreau: "Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something..."

PPP) Goethe: "As soon as you trust yourself you will know how to live."

QQQ) It is a style of living that starves your false self or ego.

RRR) It is a type of "intelligence," similar to say, mathematical or emotional intelligence, where one is more or less "intelligent" about which activities, acts, and pursuits lead to a "good life" or a life well lived, verses a wasted one.

SSS) A means to acquire fulfillment both while alive and after death.

TTT) A fairly radical (and rarely practiced) notion that, with all the worry and attention you give to your face, hair, teeth, and body, you should also probably give at least as much to your mind and heart. (a.k.a. the notion that we typically spend less of our resources on our souls than we do on our underwear.)

UUU) ". . . the question suddenly occurred to him: "What if my whole life has really been wrong?" It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true. It occurred to him that his scarcely perceptible attempts to struggle against what was considered good by the most highly placed people, those scarcely noticeable impulses which he had immediately suppressed, might have been the real thing, and all the rest false. And his professional duties and the whole arrangement of his life and of his family, and all his social and official interests, might all have been false. He tried to defend all those things to himself and suddenly felt the weakness of what he was defending. There was nothing to defend." - Leo Tolstoy, "The Death of Ivan Ilych"

VVV) "...Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

WWW) It is a matter of refusing to "sell your soul," or in other words, being alert and intelligent enough to not get suckered into making a very bad bargain, of exchanging something extremely valuable (a.k.a. the "soul") for something that will sooner or later be worthless.

XXX) The Morality of Pac-Man: "To us, the Pac-Man's lives appear short, cheap, and relatively inconsequential once we discover the overwhelming importance of sex and money. But if we perform a thought experiment and try to occupy a Pac-Man's subjectivity, we will realize that these three short spans are not so short to him. We must allow that each dot eaten takes on a meaning for the Pac-Man that we can barely fathom. I suggest that if we, through force of imagination, were to dilate time to experience it as the Pac-Man does, and increase the resolution to allow us to read as much into each pixel are made large, each dot will possess a snowflake's uniqueness, and the acquisition of each - no, the experience of each - will bring the Pac-Man a very specific and distinct joy or sorrow. The dots all rack up points equally, of course; in retrospect, however, some are revealed as wrong choices, links in a chain of wrong choices that trace out a wrong path leading to a withering demise beneath the adorable and utterly unforgiving eyes of Blinky, Inky, Pinky or Clyde. As anyone who ever played the game seriously must know, the order in which the dots are experienced is of great importance. For each labyrinth, there are rigid and precise patterns through the maze - i.e., specific sequences of dot acquisition - that, if followed with a samurai's unwavering, arrow-into-hell certainty, allow the knowing Pac-Man to ascend from level to level with Zen ease and deliberateness." - D. B. Weiss

YYY) It's a one-word description encompassing this: You actually know "The Truth" or Reality; but often, you don't actually know that you know the truth (or in other words, you're in denial, or just aren't willing to admit it to yourself. This awareness is typically unconscious .. . . so it's like there's this objective awareness that's submerged in your mind, like the way a submarine is submerged in the ocean. A truly "moral" life, then, is one that is spent making this unconscious awareness, conscious. (OK, but how?)

ZZZ) "The will of God is not a system of rules established from the outset. It is something new and different in each different situation in life. And for this reason a man must forever re-examine what the will of God may be. The will of God may lie deeply concealed beneath a number of other possibilities." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A4) "Everywhere in life, we will find that when we are confronted with a problem or dilemma, we can maintain a balance. In every situation in life, there are extreme opposites and the good thing is to create a balanced synthesis of these opposites; not to go this way or that way to the furthest extreme. The unity of opposites is a great secret, because that is what reality is. We are images of reality. Reality is the unity of opposites. If we want to fulfill our potential in being an image of the infinite, we have to synthesize opposites, unify opposites, and become ourselves a unity of opposites." - Haridas Chaudhuri

B4) It's having something like "wisdom," or a "bird's eye view" of the whole arena of life, including all the pitfalls, land mines, booby traps, buried treasure, diamond mines, snake nests and such, and seeing clearly the predictable ways that people regularly stumble into them all, usually while they are occupied with telling you to keep your nose out of their business.

C4) "Love, and do what you like." - St. Augustine

D4) "Do everything, but don't insert yourself into what you are doing." - Richard Rose

E4) "We are to practice virtue, not possess it." - Meister Eckhart

F4) None of the above.

G4) All of the above.

H4) Other ______________________.


Your Answer(s): ________.

When you finish your quiz, please pass your papers to the front.
(Just kidding.)

(But seriously, please note:
This is a quiz that, in a way, you're already really taking,
we're just putting it down on paper here;
You will probably be graded, but may not be;
we're not sure when or even if you'll find out what your grade,
and we might know who will or won't be grading your papers,
but then again, we may be wrong.)

"Community profusion and morality confusion
are actually two sides of the same situation,
different aspects of a single problem to which
we all have to keep improvising daily solutions
as we live our postmodern lives.

We move in and out of different communities,
every community has its own values and beliefs,
and sometimes one community's morality is different from -
even diametrically opposed to - another's.

And each time we move in and out of them, we change.
Periodically we may make a resolution to be more consistent, but it's not easy.
Most of us simply do not live full-time within a single moral structure
that gives us a set of instructions on how to be,
or even a good clear set of guidelines
on how to figure it out for ourselves . . .

. . . I see no evidence of any shortage, either,
of moralizing and preaching.
We hear secular preachers everywhere,
exhorting us to be
nonracist, nonsexist, less individualistic, environmentally responsible,
fiscally responsible, kind to animals.

And meanwhile the more traditional types of preachers are still hard at work
over the airwaves, in the churches, and sometimes on the street corners,
waving the Bible and telling us to obey the Ten Commandments and get right with God.
In comparison to our present situation,
the old-times in Salem had it easy:
At least
they got hit over the heads
with only one belief system . . ."
- Walter Truett Anderson



Appendix I: "The Paradoxical Commandments"
by Kent M. Keith


Appendix II: "Moral Progress"
Thought Experiment:

The majority of folks seem to believe that there is "progress" is physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, and science in general . . .

- but is there such a thing as moral progress?

Could there be such a thing as a "science" of morality?
- meaning, a "discipline" or school of thought, based not just on trial and error, but on a systematic and methodological experimentation with the testing and validation of theories?

"Few virtuous women
are not tired of their way of life."
- Francois, duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680

". . . It is hard for man to see this,
for he is proud of being human and not an animal
and yet regards its happiness with envy
because he wants nothing other
than to live like the animal . . ."
- Fredrich Nietzsche

"Men and women
aren't really dogs;
they only look like it
and behave like it."
- D. H. Lawrence


Appendix III: "Re-branding Morality"

Times have changed. The whole question of "morality" nowadays often conjures up images of prudes, Puritans, do-gooders, preachers, phonies, intolerant hypocrites and just uncool folks who don't have fun, those who are "missing out" on all the "good stuff" . . . and on and on and on, etc etc.

In other words, "morality" itself in some ways (and sometimes for good reasons) - has gotten a bad rap - and is often even seen as . . . well, somehow, immoral.

But on the other hand, the LiveReal Agents all believe (we checked) that there's nothing cool about wasting your life, sleepwalking through it, or being a general dumbass when it comes to living it. Being smart about how you live your life, however you work out the specifics, is always better than not.

So along this vein, part of our noble mission at LiveReal is to dig into "morality," both present and past, and see if we can find some real answers to the question "How should we live?"

"Economic freedom did not create a hoped-for society
of independent yeomen but a regime of mass consumption.
Political freedom did not result in active and enlightened
civic participation but in voter apathy.
In a similar way,
moral freedom
is highly unlikely to produce
a nation of individuals exercising their autonomy
with the serious and dispassionate judgment of Immanuel Kant.
Yet moral freedom is as inevitable as it is impossible.
Critics of America's condition insist on the need to return to the morality of yesterday,
but it may be better, given its inevitability,
to think of moral freedom as a challenge to be met
rather than as a condition to be cured."
- Alan Wolfe

Appendix IV: "The death of the God of theism . . .

. . . therefore, has removed from our world the traditional basis of ethics. This is the conclusion we are forced to draw. That is also why ethical issues are so widely debated in our society.

It is frightening for many when they grasp the fact that we live in a morally neutral universe. Some respond with a panicked pursuit of pleasure. Some seek to escape their fears of moral meaninglessness in a world of alcohol and drugs. Some sink to the ultimate level of despair and fall into depression or even suicide. Some try to shield themselves from this unsettling sense of emptiness by becoming hysterically religious, as if shouting certain religious phrases with emotion and a feigned certainty might convince them that everything is still the way it has always been. These are but the signs that a loss of meaning has engulfed our world. We no longer know how to tell right from wrong, and above all else, our confusion reflects the death of the theistic God in whom all these things were once grounded.

To build a new basis for ethics, we must learn to look in a different place. We look, I believe, not outside of life for some external and objective authenticating authority, but rather at the very center and core of our humanity. We get to that core by asking a totally different series series of questions. These are not God questions but human questions, such as: What gives us life? What lifts us into wholeness? What enhances our being? What introduces us to transcendence? What calls us beyond our limits? What do we ultimately value?

These questions will force us to search, not the empty heavens, but the depths of our own being for answers . . ." - John Shelby Spong


Appendix V: So, what is "morality"?

In true LiveReal fashion, we're not as much about giving answers (even if we could) than we are about encouraging good folks to seek answers for themselves.

At the same time, this question runs across a lot of different areas. Some see morality as being merely a random by-product of culture, others see it as being tied closely to "God" (- and what is God?), they say it has to do with "love" or even just plain old sanity. For others, the whole reason for bringing it up in the first place has to do with sex.

So, what it "THE answer"? Is there one?

". . . it's hard to know where to turn
when the going gets tough,
how to learn the skills of navigating in a world
that has as many different moral codes as styles of cooking.
That is the real moral challenge of our time."
- Walter Truett Anderson

Your cuddly LiveReal Agents
are on the case,
so stay tuned . . .

"The highest point a man can attain
is not Knowledge, or Virtue, or Goodness, or Victory,
but something even greater, more heroic and more despairing:
Sacred Awe!"
- Nikos Kazantzakis


If you liked this, check out:

The Search for "IT"

Why do we suffer?

What is "Enlightenment"?

Why are we here?

What is "Love"?

What is "God"?