Logical & Critical Thinking

with Professor Logic

What is Moral?

what-is-moralWhat is moral? When faced with a scenario or set of choices how do we know what is moral? It’s about to get deep, real deep. I’m gonna pick apart the brain and analyze why a thing is moral or immoral. There might even be some grotesque over-analyzation of thought patterns and over detailed wording of ideas like “broad vs specific behavior of humans”. I think one of the best ways to hit this topic right is to scope through some examples and bring up moral dilemas. In doing so we can peruse the dynamics of the human beings decision making apparatus. So let’s figure out what is moral.

Is Killing Moral?

Yes and no. The first thing we encounter on our journey on what is moral is context and relativity. Killing is moral sometimes and immoral other times. What times is it immoral and what times is it moral though is the key to the question. First scenario:

Is killing moral scenario 1

Bob is walking down the street and Mike is approaching from the opposite direction, Mike, just after passing Bob, pulls out a gun and blows his brains out. Mike spits on Bob’s dead corpse then turns and walks away.

Is this moral? I don’t think so and I hope you don’t either. The example illustrates one aspect to morality and that is justification. Wonton destruction and chaos is often seen as immoral. As humans we often try to justify our actions and when our actions approach acts that could be seen as immoral we find we have to justify ourselves. Keep in mind from now on about justification when analyzing a situation for morality. Now let’s add more detail to the above scenario.

Is killing moral scenario 2

Bob was over at Mike’s house to fix some plumbing. Mike was at work and Mike’s 11 year old daughter Susan was the only one home to let him in. When she let him in Bob raped Susan and tortured her. When Mike came home he found out and grabbed his gun and set out to find Bob…now insert the first scenario here where Mike blows Bob’s brains all over the pavement.

Is this moral now? Now things aren’t so cut and dry as before because we have some added information which adds justification to the act. Now we have to figure out how much justification is needed for the act to be moral. The act now is much less immoral and is borderline immoral, what matters now is context. Now we have an added attribute to think about when analyzing a situation to determine if it is moral. In this case though I feel the context and justification still do not warrant complete morality for the killing. In our modern societies we have police forces which are meant to prevent vigilante justice, improve the protection of innocents, and reduce false convictions/punishments (it is “supposed” to do this however it doesn’t always reach this). So Mike’s killing is unjustified in the context because he didn’t call the police. Now let’s add even more detail.

Is killing moral scenario 3

what-is-moral-killingAfter Mike found out Bob raped his daughter he called the police and Bob was arrested and went to court. Bob beat his charge because of a loophole in the system. Mike knew Bob raped his daughter because he had it recorded on a home security camera and everything matched up to his daughters story. In the legal loophole though all evidence had to be thrown out. Mike tracks Bob down and guns him down with a fully automatic tommy submachine gun emptying the entire clip into him then spits on his body.

Is this now finally moral? I am not condoning or promoting vigilante justice but to me I just don’t see any guilt or immorality on Mike’s part. All methods of justice failed and the evidence and knowledge of the act was verified beyond any doubt. In most cases self defense is a justifiable cause for killing. In the above scenario I chose an instance that removes immediate threat yet demands revenge and justice. Remember, justice is revenge, simply an attempt to make things right either emotionally or societally.

What is moral, justification and context

So as we can see above there can be an infinite mount of details to complicate a situation. One major attribute we must keep looking for is justification. This basically amounts to the “why” of a situation. Then we need to analyze the context of the actions and scenario. The reason why these things matter is because of several human qualities. Human drive for self fulfillment, ability to suffer, and the combination of the two. Human beings always possess a drive and an ability to suffer, because of these two qualities we have morals. These two qualities are in a constant struggle both within the human and externally between humans.

What is moral, self fulfillment and suffering

Every human (that’s not a vegetable) has drives for self fulfillment. We crave things and have emotional and biological needs. Morals come into the picture when we place our self fulfillment above the suffering of others. Like in the example above Bob placed his self fulfillment above Susan’s. Then Mike placed his above Bob’s, Mike was fulfilling the desire for justice and revenge by slaying Bob. In one case we considered one to be a heinous crime, in the other it was encountered in some ways as moral or justified depending on context. If you begin analyzing a multitude of situations you will find that selfishness for one’s own fulfillment is the root of moral problems.

In order to improve yourself and become a better person you would have to critically analyze your own thoughts and figure out if your self fulfillment dramatically caused suffering in another. Now we have to be able to understand suffering in others which leads us to an interesting human attribute, empathy.


what-is-moral-critical-thinkingEmpathy is the ability to understand existence from another persons perspective. This takes a super deep understanding of yourself. This segues into understanding others if you apply what you’ve learned about yourself toward others. When we are empathetic we can feel others joys and sorrows. When we can understand and feel others we can then figure out where our self fulfillment should be and where not to overextend it.

Is Stealing Moral?

Now that we have looked at some of the mechanics of what makes a thing moral or immoral let’s jump to another example, this time involving wealth.

Is stealing moral scenario 1

Tom needs electronic components for his home entertainment system. Tom walks into a store and loads up his cart with expensive electronics and walks out of the store.

This is an immoral act because Tom is taking from others. There is no justification for doing this it appears and the context seems to make Tom need the items merely for entertainment purposes. This act of stealing causes suffering because the hard work of the store owner/employees is diminished and profit capacity is lowered.

Is stealing moral scenario 2

Tom works 60 hours a week to support his family but still doesn’t have a computer or the internet. Tom goes to a store and steals a laptop and modem.

This new scenario complicates things because now Tom is performing in a way that makes us respect him plus the object of his desire is something very commonplace ie. a computer with internet. We admire Tom for working 60 hours but still disapprove of his theft, in our hearts we wish there was a way to make sure hard working people had access to common place things like computers and internet.

Is stealing moral scenario 3

Tom works 60 hours a week to support his family but still doesn’t have a computer or the internet. Tom knows about an ultra rich millionaire that owns a chain of electric stores. His brother Roger works at one. Tom also knows that the millionaire doesn’t pay his employees good (minimum wage) and doesn’t provide health care. Tom goes to the store and steals a laptop and modem.

Whoa! Now things are even more complicated because the millionaire is immoral in that his self fulfillment is overriding the suffering of others. He is abusing his employees so he can be a millionaire. Tom works harder than the millionaire and can’t even afford a computer. However I still feel this is somewhat immoral, it is getting hard to discern and I think a good arguer might convince people of this being moral, it could really go in either direction. If I was a judge and was privy to the context I would certainly only give Tom a slap on the wrist.

Is stealing moral scenario 4

Tom works 60 hours a week but cannot afford food for his family, Tom steals food from a millionaire to feed his family.

I think this is moral. No one should live in such a proximity to such wealth and work hard yet not be able to feed his children. In a society of limited wealth the ultra wealthy are immoral in that they are literally taking wealth from others. If a poor part of society is suffering then their aggregation of wealth literally causes suffering. Who the hell needs a million dollar beach house when fellow citizens are starving? We could then begin to debate where the wealth aggregation becomes immoral and this would be too complex for this article. I also think there should be some level of reward in a society for performing well but there is also a limit to amassing wealth.

So in the end what is moral?

It is for critical thinkers to determine what is moral. We have to work at increasing our own analytical skills and self-reflection to help us determine what is moral. No moral system, no dogma, no one person is going to create a system to improve things and lay down what is moral and what is not. The world is just to complex and there are too many scenarios. What can help is individual empowerment of the mind. This is why I advocate logical and critical thinking so much because it teaches the individual to step out and test their own mind and the minds of others. With logic and critical thinking a human being can better find truth and assess complex situations to better find morality. Finding morality is your responsibility and yours alone on an individual level, yet it is all of our responsibility to find it individually and then educate ourselves such that we can express what we have learned to others. An individual burden on every shoulder, truly then on the shoulders of all humanity.

Links on what is moral and morality

  • Beth

    “Tom works 60 hours a week but cannot afford food for his family, Tom steals food from a millionaire to feed his family.”
    I still fail to see how it is moral for him to steal. I think both parties are in the wrong here: the millionare for being a cormorant, and Tom for stealing. Is there proof he truly had no other options than to resort to taking something that was not, by rights, his? And what if the food he stole from the millionare had actually been set aside by the millionare to go to a local food bank? Then he is stealing, not from the millionare, but from the people who would have gotten that food from a food bank. I’m not sure Tom is properly justified in this scenario.

    • Ronald Dwayne Henderson

      Although Tom works hard to support his family, it is still immoral to steal from anyone due to your personal needs or the needs of your family & friends, etc. The Millionaire isn’t immoral at all and being ultra rich and not giving out things for free or little to nothing isn’t immoral either. Just like Tom, Im sure the millionaire worked very hard to get to where he is. Tom may have reached success faster, had he worked smarter, not harder. Maybe thats how the Millionaire became successful. Technology makes things faster/easier and requires smarts. Hard labor has physical difficulties thus causing things to either get slower & less efficient. What if the millionaire is the guy who found a cure to cancer thus causing him to become highly succesful? Not only would Tom be stealing from a millionaire, but he would also be stealing from the person who cured a common disease that kills 1,000,000s of pople every half year (& Tom could always fall within that category). So in my opinion, stealing if not stolen from is ALWAYS immoral.

      • guest

        “Morality” and any associated ideal is rooted entirely in the presupposition some higher power determines what is correct for human behavior.

      • Rob

        I would reserve judgment before labeling Tom as immoral. You may be correct that the millionaire made his money by working hard, but there is not enough information to conclude or even form a valid premise that the millionaire worked hard to make that money. All we know from the information presented is that the millionaire owns a chain of electronic stores. This in and of itself does not prove that the millionaire became rich via profit from the electronic store. He could’ve obtained the wealth by other means, to include the possibility of illegal activity. Again, you may be correct.

  • guest