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What is Morality?

Can an economic system be moral?  Which economic system achieves morality?  What is morality?  A brief description of the fundamentals of moral philosophy will help in our exploration of the moral foundations of capitalism.

How do you make your decisions?  What guides you in determining what is right and wrong?  What are your moral obligations?  What makes one person virtuous and another a scoundrel?  Click here for examples of situations which might challenge your own moral compass.

Visit morality play to evaluate your own moral orientation.

Moral philosophy has examined and been influenced by several competing viewpoints. Below is a brief description of some of the most notable theories of what makes something moral or immoral.

Moral Relativism  - The central claim of moral relativism is that there is no universal moral truth. Morality is relative to each individual, society, or situation. In other words, there is no right and wrong for everyone. Perhaps the most known statement of moral relativism is “when in Rome do as the Romans do” as it indicates the right thing to do is relative to where you are. 

For more information on moral relativism, click here.

Divine Command Theory – The central claim of this ethic is that right and wrong are known and determined by, what God commands. Something is moral because God says so. Something is immoral because God says it is.

Objectivism – The moral life, for the objectivist, is one driven by the pursuit of one’s own happiness through rational self-interest. This entails strong individual rights, and limited obligations to others, such that each person may act for their own happiness without being hindered by others.

For more on objectivism, visit objectivism 101.

Utilitarianism – For the utilitarian moral actions are those which lead to the greatest good for all persons affected by them. No action is inherently moral or immoral. Rather, each action is judged by the consequence it has. For example, utilitarians say it is moral to sacrifice one person’s life in order to save ten persons’ lives.

See the Utilitarian Philosophers for more information.

Virtue Ethics – According to virtue ethics morality is about perfecting good character traits (virtues) and avoiding bad character traits (vices). The moral person is the one who has learned the proper virtues such as honesty, loyalty, integrity, bravery, and generosity.
Deontological Ethics – Deontological ethics holds that certain actions are not “universalizable.” That is, we recognize that everyone cannot always do them. Lying, stealing, and murder are three such examples. Such actions are therefore inherently immoral and can never be right regardless of the situation.

Related sites:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy