If morality is a set of shared values among people in a specific society,
why do we have to worry about justifying those values to people who are not
members of that society? To justify an action or a principle requires showing
good reason for its existence and why there are no better alternatives. Justifying
morality is not a simple thing since morality, by its own definition, is not
simply justifiable especially to an outsider. Moral reasons require more justification than social reasons because moral reasons are much stronger than aesthetic ones; for example, murder is not immoral just because most people find
it revolting; it is much more than that. To justify more reasons, therefore, we
need something strong and plausible to anchor our reasoning on. That something cannot be religion, for example, because one’s religion is not everyone’s
religion. We need something that demonstrates that the balance of good in
an action is favorable to other people, not only to one’s interests and desires.
Moral theories do satisfy this purpose. According to Chris MacDonald, moral
theories “seek to introduce a degree of rationality and rigor into our moral
deliberations.”1 They give our deliberations plausibility and help us better
understand those values and the contradictions therein. Because many philosophers and others use the words moral and ethical synonymously, we delay the
discussion of moral theories until we discuss ethics.
For one to be morally good, one must practice the qualities of being good.
To live these qualities, one must practice and live within the guidelines of these
qualities. These guidelines are moral codes. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines moral codes as rules or norms within a group for what is proper
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behavior for the members of that group.2 The norm itself is a rule, standard,
or measure for us to compare something else whose qualities we doubt. In a
way, moral codes are shared behavioral patterns of a group. These patterns
have been with us since the first human beings inhabited the Earth and have
evolved mainly for survival of the group or society. Societies and cultures survive and thrive because of the moral code they observe. Societies and cultures
throughout history like the once mighty Babylonians, Romans, and Byzantines
probably failed because their codes failed to cope with the changing times.
We have established that morality and cultures are different in different
societies. This does not, however, exclude the existence of the commonality
of humanity with timeless moral code. These codes are many and they come
in different forms including:
• The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto
• The Bronze Rule: “Repay kindness with kindness.” This rule is widely
observed because of its many varying interpretations.
There is a commonality of good in these rules which equate to Carl
Sagan’s culture- free and timeless universal set of moral codes3
• Be friendly at first meeting.
• Do not envy.
• Be generous; forgive your enemy if he or she forgives you.
• Be neither a tyrant nor a patsy.
• Retaliate proportionately to an intentional injury (within the constraints of the rule of the law).
• Make your behavior fairly (although not perfectly) clear and consistent.
The purpose of moral codes in a society is to exert control over the actions
of the society’s members that result from emotions. Observance of moral codes
in most societies is almost involuntary mostly because members of such societies grow up with these codes so they tend to follow them religiously without
question. In some societies, observance is enforced through superstition, and
in others through folklore and custom.