Rethinking Morality

By Elena

Growing up, we always hear about right and wrong, evil and good, fair and unfair, justice and injustice. We’re taught moral values from a young age, and many people take these moral values they learned as children into adulthood without a second thought. After all, rethinking some of these moral values is difficult and presents many hard truths. 

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Immorality of Universality

The hardest truth to learn is often that our moral viewpoint is not universal, and that it shouldn’t be. Everyone has different experiences, and thus views the world in a different light. 

Sure, we begin to learn this at a young age, when we learn fairness isn’t always everyone getting the same thing, but many people never seem to realize universality is inherently immoral. Many live their entire lives holding their truths close to heart, never realizing the harm they cause by never giving their morals any exceptions. 

The first universal truth many learn is that lying is wrong. Yes, lying is wrong in many cases, but every one of you reading this right now has told at least one white lie, and has definitely heard one. Under many universal moral frameworks, most notably deontology which focuses on intentions, you have acted immorally. 

Obviously, this means there should be exceptions, right? Telling a lie, especially one you believe to be for a good cause, has to be moral, right? Under a deontological moral lens like Kant’s Categorical Imperative, you are wrong. Telling a lie, even to save a life, is immoral. Lying when housing a Jew to a Nazi is often one of the most commonly citied example of a lie which should be considered moral, but under many moral frameworks, would not be.

Morality is, and should be, subjective. Morality cannot be set in stone, as doing so is exactly what has historically led to death and destruction.

Social Classes

We live in a society where different social classes have vastly different views on life. The higher you are in a social class, the more you can have a hand in deciding what is “right” and what is “wrong” and thus many of the lower classes are forced to have the same ideologies on morality as those in power.

Obviously, this is another aspect of morality that we need to rethink. This type of society leads to things like colonization, more ingroups and outgroups, and just in general a society with questionable morals. 

When those in power are going to form society’s morals, they’re likely going to mold them into morals that benefit them, or make them seem better. They have power over what good and bad is defined by, whereas the lower classes are left with no choice but to accept those terms, or suffer the consequences.

This is something we can especially see in colonization. The colonizers create a higher social class, and enforce their ideologies onto those they’re colonizing. Even worse, these effects last for centuries. As someone who lives in the US, I know exactly how messed up the curriculum we learn in schools are, especially in regards to colonization. 

Many schools still teach that the Natives were savages and primitives, however if you look at the reality, that’s simply not the case. They had complex societies, complex belief systems, just like the Europeans, however even to this day we mostly learn the Colonizer’s point of view, because they were in a higher social class. 

These effects are not limited to colonization. In every aspect of our society, we have mostly heard the dominant social class’s side, whereas the lower classes are pushed off to the side. Different religions, and different marginalized voices are still pushed off, simply because the social classes in power are pushing them down.

Good vs. Bad

All of this means one thing, in particular. We can’t trust what we know to be good, or what we know to be bad, especially when our decision on the matter is made only by hearing the dominant side’s point of view. 

Good and bad is not black and white. An action may create good for some, yet bad for others. Sadly, our moralities are largely decided by others.

This in depth analysis is one of the reasons why people are scared of philosophy. Hearing that their viewpoints are wrong is daunting, but necessary. Unless we rethink morality, we won’t be able to think critically on what good and bad really means, and we won’t be able to change our societies to uproot these power structures that decide morality for the oppressed, and decide good and bad for all of us.

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