Chapter Two Moral Development
Section 1. Why be Moral?

How are we to behave toward one another?  Morality is a social phenomenon.  Think about this.  If a person is alone on some deserted island would anything that person did be moral or immoral?  That person may do things that increase or decrease the chance for survival or rescue but would those acts be moral or immoral?  Most of what we are concerned with in Ethics is related to the situation in which humans are living with others.  Humans are social animals.  Society contributes to making humans what they are.  For humans there arises the question of how are humans to behave toward one another.

What are the rules to be?  How are we to learn of them?  Why do we need them? 


Consider what the world would be like if there were no traffic rules at all.  Would people be able to travel by automobiles, buses and other vehicles on the roadways if there were no traffic regulations?  The answer should be obvious to all rational members of the human species.  Without basic rules, no matter how much some would like to avoid them or break them, there would be chaos.  The fact that some people break the rules is quite clearly and obviously not sufficient to do away with the rules.  The rules are needed for transportation to take place.

Why are moral rules needed?  For example, why do humans need rules about keeping promises, telling the truth and private property?  This answer should be fairly obvious.  Without such rules people would not be able to live amongst other humans.  People could not make plans, could not leave their belongings behind them wherever they went.  We would not know who to trust and what to expect from others.  Civilized, social life would not be possible.  So, the question is : 

Why should humans care about being moral?  

REASONS:  There are several answers. 

Sociological:  Without morality social life is nearly impossible.


   People care about what others think of them. Reputation and social censure

   Some people care about doing the right thing. Conscience

Theological: Some people care about what will happen after death, to their soul or spirit.  For many religions there is an afterlife that involves a person’s being rewarded or punished for what they have done. 



So, that is out of the way. We know that we should be moral and so should others and without some sense of morality it would be very difficult if not impossible for large numbers of humans to be living with one another.   Now to the questions that deal with the rules of morality and all the rules which govern human behavior.  First, some terms need to be clarified.

Mores- customs and  rules of conduct

Etiquette – rules of conduct concerning matters of relatively minor importance but which do contribute to the quality of life.  Violations of such rules may bring social censure.  Etiquette deals with rules concerning dress and table manners and deal with politeness.  Violations would bring denunciations for being, RUDE or CRUDE or GROSS.  Friendships would not likely break up over violations of these rules as they would for violating rules of morality, e.g., lies and broken promises!  These rules are not just “made up by a bunch of old British broads” as one student once volunteered in class.  But they are made up by people to encourage a better life.  In each society there are authorities on these matters and there are collections of such rules.  Many books are sold each year to prospective brides who want to observe the proper rules of decorum and etiquette.  There are newspapers that have regular features with questions and answers concerning these matters.

Etiquette deals with matters such as when do you place the napkin on your lap when you sit at a dining table?  How long do you wait on HOLD on a telephone call with someone with call waiting?  Should you use a cell phone at the dining table?  Should you have a beeper on or a cell phone on in class?  In a movie theatre? 

(check on the answers to these questions-Hint-There are books on etiquette and now you can also surf the internet – the answers are out there!)

Morality-  rules of right conduct concerning matters of greater importance.  Violations of such can bring disturbance to individual conscience and social sanctions. 

Law- rules which are enforced by society.  Violations may bring a loss of or reduction in freedom and possessions.

So we have many rules and guidelines in relation to our behavior.  In Ethics the focus is on the moral rules governing behavior.  What principles are to serve as the basis for those rules?


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© Copyright Stephen O Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino  2002. All Rights reserved.

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