Morally Wrong: Ambiguity of Wrongdoings

Morally Wrong

For many centuries, the most brilliant philosophers have tried to define the limits of ethics. Some used logic to guide their views. Others chose a religion to serve as a tool for determining what is morally wrong and what is morally acceptable. According to the principle of moral absolutism, all actions are divided into right and wrong from the ethical (moral) perspective (Cullity & Gaut, 1997). Right actions are those that comply with universally accepted rules and norms, while wrong actions challenge them (Skorupski, 2010). But who establishes these universal norms? Are they universal and apply to all situations without exceptions? Can something be morally wrong in one situation but totally fine in another? This essay attempts to answer these questions.

Everyone has some basic perceptions about morally wrong things. We know that it is unacceptable to steal, kill, hurt other people, deceive, manipulate, lie, and do many other things that have traditionally been condemned (Sinnott-Armstrong, 2007). These are only some of the morally wrong examples. The list of morally wrong things is long and continuously grows as people make up new rules restraining unacceptable behavior. Since the emergence of human societies, people have made up these norms to control interaction with each other and make their lives safer and happier. Religion facilitated the formation of ethics. With the emergence of the world religions, some of the basic religious postulates have penetrated the culture. Today, even atheists know that it is morally wrong to steal or kill other people, not because God punishes for these wrongdoings but because they are inherently bad (Skorupski, 2010).

There is no universal morally wrong definition. Generally speaking, this term refers to any actions or behavior that contradicts some universally-accepted ethical norms. It is generally considered that without morality, societies could not exist because people would follow their desires and interests only without considering the interests of the wider community. Let me explain. For example, if all people thought that stealing is normal, then everyone would steal from each other, which would lead to the total chaos. However, it is important to understand that some of the morally ambiguous things can be interpreted differently depending on the cultural context or situation.

Ambiguity of Morally Wrong

Universal moral norms are established by people. Given that there are many worldviews and cultures, morality may differ considerably (Cullity & Gaut, 1997). What can be morally acceptable in some African tribes (for example, polygamy) is unacceptable in the United States. Time also matters. While it was acceptable to have slaves in the 17th century, it is morally wrong today, when slavery is severely punished by law. It was considered morally right to kill witches by burning them, while the murder of this kind is not only immoral but also illegal today.

Sometimes, morally wrong actions may be legal. For example, abortion that is considered immoral in many countries is legal in others. Euthanasia is another example of a legal but immoral thing. Similarly, there are many illegal but morally right things. For instance, stealing some food to feed a hungry child is morally right, but the person doing this will definitely be punished. As seen, morality is an ambiguous concept in itself. It is affected by numerous factors including culture, laws, worldviews, traditions, etc. These factors, in turn, are changing depending on a context, so the very idea of morally wrong and morally right is also unclear. Morality is undoubtedly a guarantee of peace and stability. However, next time you claim that something is morally wrong, remember that your position is one of many and that other people may disagree.


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Cullity, G., & Gaut, B. (1997). Ethics and practical reason. Wotton-under-Edge, UK: Clarendon Press.
Skorupski, J. (2010). The domain of reasons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (2007). Moral skepticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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