Source of Morality

SUPERNATURAL THEORY – According to this perspective, values come from some supernatural being or principle – the Good (Plato), the gods (Greeks and Romans), Yahweh (Jews), God and His Son, Jesus (Christians), Allah (Muslims), Brahma (the Hindus) They believe that these beings embody the highest good themselves that they reveal to human beings – what is right or wrong and good or bad. If human beings want to be moral (usually encouraged in such desires by some sort of temporal or eternal reward) then they must follow the teachings of these beings. If they don’t, then they will end up being disobedient to the highest morality (God), will be considered immoral and will met with temporal or eternal punishment for their transgressions.

    • CRITICISMS – Albert Einstein said, “I do not believe in immortality of the individual and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.” It is possible that the supernatural exists and evidence for its existence is often cited, indeed, there have been philosophical arguments put forward that attempted to prove God’s existence. However, there is no conclusive proof of the existence of a supernatural being.

NATURAL LAW THEORY – Thomas Aquinas argued for natural laws being the source of morality and human beings must adhere to these laws to be moral. For example, Homosexuality can be called immoral based on this perspective because it is against nature for human beings of the same sex to have sexual desires for each other.

    • CRITICISMS – Closer examination of laws of nature (such as law of gravity) differentiates it with from man-made laws (Doctrine of Reciprocity). According to law of gravity, when a ball thrown into the air will fall to the ground but Doctrine of reciprocity implies that human beings should or ought to help each other. Thus, law of gravity describes the trajectory of ball whereas Doctrine of Reciprocity prescribes conduct of human beings.

Customary Morality – It is based on custom or tradition which is presented to the members of society without critical evaluation. This helps in the moral training of society’s members, in turn, moral societies can be formed. For example, in order to live together in peace, moral teaching against killing human being needs to be propagated. But there is a dark side to customary morality, for example, traditional institutions such as Khap Panchayats deprives women of their basic rights and promote patriarchy in crudest form.

Reflective Morality – Its formulation can be understood in the backdrop of customary morality. According to this perspective, customs or traditions need to be examined critically to ensure that it has basis in truth. It does not suggest that custom and tradition be thrown out completely but it urges human beings to use reason to examine the basis and effectiveness of customary moral teachings. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Thus, customary morality which affects everybody lives on daily basis need critical evaluation as done by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in order to free Indian society from the evil practice of Sati system.

Detailed discussion on the subject of morality has shown its implication on other domains of study such as Religion, Law, Value system etc. Let’s understand the key concepts of distinction among these domains;