What is Morality and Ethics?
Morality: "behavior according
Cultural and customary behavior. What does it mean to be a good
person in the context of a particular community? Focus is more on
character: who we are.
Ethics: "behavior according to
Critical reflection about morality. What is the right action in a
particular context? Focus is more on doing: what we are doing.
How are they related?
Some say that morality is seen as particular, belonging to a
specific cultural community, while ethics is seen as universal,
absolute, and rational. However, both morality and ethics emerge
from an 'intellectual tradition', in the context of some particular
community. All morality and ethics require a Qualifier. Differences
have more to do with where the emphasis is placed; character
(virtue) or actions; being or doing; and goodness or rightness.
Both morality and ethics appeals to a 'religious' level for its
The Three Dimensions the Moral Life:
Religious, Moral, and Ethical
Moral commitments are based on foundational Religious (or
metaphysical) convictions (core beliefs) about the nature of
reality, and one's place in that reality (God, world, human nature,
etc.). What is one's ultimate frame of reference, or ultimate
value? What is the Good? What is the Right? These convictions
develop in context of a community and tradition, and are
articulated in authoritative texts, stories, or myths. This level
involves various dimensions of moral/ethical reflection:
- Theological dimension - Who is God? What are God's moral
purposes for humanity? How is God related to the Good or the
- Fundamental dimension - "Who am I as a moral agent." What is
the human moral nature? What is God enabling me to do?
- Meta-ethical dimension - How do I know the good or right? How
can I justify moral truth?.
- Interpretive dimension - "What is going on?" What is God doing
The content of the Religious level become translated into a moral
framework. It addresses the question of moral identity: Who am I?
Who are we? To whom do I belong? It asks what does it mean to be a
good person? How should we order our lives together? What virtues,
norms, values comprise what it means to be a "good" person or a
good community? This involves various dimensions:
- Normative dimension - It singles out particular virtues, norms,
and values (goods) that reflect the good or the right. These are
rather general in their nature. Christian ethics views this in
light of its appeal to its authoritative texts and tradition.
- Relational dimension - What does my community demand of me?
What obligations do I have to others?
- Responsible dimension - What does it mean to be a responsible
community and person? What does it mean to act responsibly as a
community and as a person?
The Ethical level emerges both from the Religious level and
the Moral level. It serves as the critical reflection of the moral
level. It also evaluates other moral and ethical traditions. The
Ethical level is more concerned with the process of actual
decision-making. It takes the content of morality and applies to
particular situations. It is more willing to talk in general terms
(applies to people in general), less in specific terms about its
own moral tradition. It makes normative claims about moral
behavior. This level also involves various dimensions:
- Decisionist dimension - What should I or we do in this
particular situation? What is the right act?
- Deliberative dimension - It applies morality to specific
situations. It engages in the process of reasoning from the more
general norms, virtues, and values of the Moral level to the
specifics of particular situations. This process is a rational
process that takes place individually, but also in context of an
on-going tradition or community or group.
- Prescriptive dimension - It makes judgments about particular
situations It claims: "This action is right or wrong? It appeals to
Moral and Religious levels for justification of claims, especially
the meta-ethical dimension.
- Imperative dimension - It applies it reasoning to all
'rational' persons. It says: "you ought to do this" or "it is right
or good that you do this in this particular situation."