Saturday, September 1, 2012




Moral Judgments

Moral Judgments

Morality (from the Latin moralitas "manner, character, proper behavior") is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good (or right) and those that are bad (or wrong). 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. The adjective moral is synonymous with "good" or "right." Immorality is the active opposition to morality (i.e. good or right), while amorality is variously defined as an unawareness of, indifference toward, or disbelief in any set of moral standards or principles.[1][2][3][4] 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."[5]

Judge - "(v) to form an opinion or evaluation about something through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises; to form a judgment." Judgment - "(1) a formal utterance of an authoritative opinion; (2) the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing; an opinion or estimate so formed; (3) a proposition stating something believed or asserted."

What are moral judgments? Moral judgments are evaluations or opinions formed as to whether some action or inaction, intention, motive, character trait, or a person as a whole is (more or less) Good or Bad as measured against some standard of Good. The moral judgments of actions (or inaction) are usually the primary focus of any discussion of Moral Judgments in particular, and Ethical analysis in general. This is because the judgments of intentions, character traits, and persons are generally based on the judgment of actions that the intention, motive, character trait, or person might potentially do or not do. So limiting the discussion to the moral judgments of actions (or inactions) will also, with suitable obvious modifications, address the moral judgment of intentions, motives, character traits and people.

What distinguishes moral judgments from non moral judgments, is the context of the statement. Philosophy, and particularly Ethics, differs from the sciences in one very important way. All of the sciences, both 'hard' and "Soft', deal with descriptions of Reality. They purport to describe in varying levels of detail, what is about Reality. Ethics, on the other hand, is that branch of Philosophy that describes what one ought. All of the various philosophers, in all of their various works on Ethics, are detailing what you "Should" do or how things "Should" be, not what is. In answer to the questions "What should I do?" or "What is the 'right' thing to do?", ethics answers "You should do what you 'ought' to!" So moral judgments are judgments about what one "ought" to do (or not do), or have done (or not done).

We can group moral judgments into two broad classes. There are "before-the-fact" moral judgments, and there are "after-the-fact" moral judgments. Before-the-fact judgments are those made before the action (or inaction) takes place. They are made based on the best information available at the time as to what the moral landscape holds and what its future shape will be. These are judgments about what you "ought to do (or not do)", and whether what you are planning to do (or not do) is Good or Bad. After-the-fact moral judgments are made after the action (or inaction) has taken place, and are based on 20/20 hindsight view of the actual consequences. These are judgments about what you "ought to have done (or not done)", and whether your actual actions were Good or Bad.

A second major distinction of moral judgments is that they can only be made of an agent with the freedom or will to choose. Moral judgments are judgments of certain choices, or potential choices, where the one who chooses is aware that there is a choice, and has the capability to choose. A person who cannot do other than what was done, is not subject to moral judgment. But if a person has the freedom to choose alternatives, then that person's intentional, or unintentional actions or inaction can be subject to moral judgments. This argument is the ethical basis of the "Insanity" defense. The insanity defense argues that the accused cannot be considered guilty because the accused was unable to make a choice of an alternate behavior. The behavior exhibited was "unavoidable". This line of reasoning is never too successful when it is applied to the average human, with an average degree of intelligence. But it is the reason we do not make moral judgments about what a falling tree does on its way down. If the tree happens to kill someone, we don't judge that the tree "ought not to have done that" because the tree had no other alternative. This same logic applies to situations as well where the individual concerned does have some sentience. You don't pass moral judgments on your pet puppy dog or your 2 month old baby, if they piddle on the floor. You realize that they are not capable of choosing some other behavior. But you do judge your 3 year old pet dog or little girl if they piddle on the carpet, because you know that they are bright enough to make the choice, and they have been instructed to know that their particular choice was not a "good" one.

The third important distinction is knowledge. In order to be able to make a choice, you have to be aware that there are alternatives. If your knowledge about your current situation is thin, or your knowledge about how reality behaves is thin, then you might come to the conclusion that there are no better alternatives. You might make a choice that you believe is the correct one, but because your knowledge is thin, you overlook a better one. In such a case, we could make an after-the-fact judgment about what you ought to have done, if you had had better information, but any before-the-fact moral judgment we might make about what you did, has to be based on the knowledge available to you at that time. A person who made the best choice that they could under the information they had at the time, cannot be censured for making a "Bad" choice at that time. And a person who did not know the actual consequences that would result from action or inaction being judged, is also excused from moral censure. We do not censure the players involved in an accidental happenings. It is assumed that the individuals involved could not have anticipated the actual consequences of their actions. What actually happened was "an accident". (This argument does not apply, of course, to the other use of the symbol "accident". An automobile collision, although often called an "accident",is usually not "accidental" in this sense, since it is assumed more or less correctly that the individuals involved in an automobile collision are cognizant of the consequences of poor driving behavior.)

An exception to this principle of knowledge, is if the person involved could "reasonably" be expected to have known or be able to find a better alternative, or to find out the probable consequences of the action or inaction involved. Thus we can say "You ought to have known that . . . . ". (Which is why an automobile "accident" is usually not regarded as "accidental".) The judgment in this case is more a judgment of the behavior choices that resulted in the ignorance in the first place, than a judgment of the particular behaviors that resulted from that ignorance. It is an almost universal moral judgment that individuals "ought" to learn enough about their local portions of Reality that they can make "Good" (i.e. non-ignorance based) behavioral choices most of the time.




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