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Thursday, 3 March 2016

Who is Moral?

I asked google to define what a moral person is. Google said that a moral person is someone who 'conforms to a standard of which is right and good. This implies conformity to established sanctioned codes or accepted notions of right or wrong.'

The psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg uses four stages to explain the development of morality. These stages work on the understanding that as a person goes through cognitive development, their morality develops to. If abiding by this theory, we should believe that people start off with a very limited perspective on morality; using our role models to determine from a young age, right from wrong. As we develop, we should therefore seek to determine our own code of morality, partially based on societal values, and eventually depart from societies conventions or 'accepted notions' as google called it, and make moral decisions based on our own understanding and perception of right and wrong.

When understanding Kohlberg's theory, I struggled to believe that this quantification of an abstract concept could truly be used as a tool for which we define the development of said moral compass. Yet, when grappling with this idea, I saw my issue was not the abstract concept, but rather the way the definition of a 'moral' person tends to over simplify the human condition.

According to Kohlberg, a person that chooses to return an item that they have purchased amongst other items but not paid for, is morally upstanding. This person, theoretically, has achieved stage 5 in moral development. But does this make them a 'moral person'?

I sincerely doubt it. To me, Kohlberg's theory seems to suggest that one morally upstanding act means that you are a morally upstanding person. But what about the person who returns the item to the store, yet is cheating on his wife? Or the person who hides behind his charitable public persona, but beats his children and abuses his wife? Kohlberg's theory didn't seem to have any answers to the real moral dilemmas that people are faced with. To me, the essence of a truly moral person is someone who acts in private exactly how they would in public - if they give charity publicly, they would do this privately as well. A person does not abuse his children in private but behave beautifully in public yet remain a morally upstanding part of society. The implication that one good act makes you a good person is narrow minded, and ignores the complexity of human nature in so many ways.

The age restrictions that Kohlberg seemed to impose on moral development was the second thing that frustrates me immensely. Kohlberg seemed to suggest that morality develops with age. This would imply that children and young adults are incapable of making complex moral decisions. And that would be wrong.

When faced with a decision that would change everything, what would you do? Being someone in this predicament, having to make a decision that would change everything was the hardest thing I had to do. Before making my choice, I consulted a few adults, who were about as much help as one of those 'motivational posters' that aim to cheer someone up but in reality do nothing. Adults were sympathetic with the difficulty of my choice, but could offer nothing themselves, mostly admitting they had no idea what the right thing to do would be. So all alone, at seventeen, I had to come to a decision myself about the right, or 'moral' thing to do.

Admittedly, I might be haunted by this decision a year later, but ultimately, when weighing up two extremely difficult realities, I chose the one that was most moral, according to my own definition. So, no whilst my moral development according to Kohlberg should have prevented me from making a moral decision, I was able to anyway.

So in an attempt to answer my own question, who is moral?
I had to ask myself what is moral? A question that I don't think Google, or Kohlberg have answered particularly well. One good deed does not make you a good person, just as one bad deed doesn't make you a bad person. Being moral is about acting out of principle with good intentions, in order to do something that you understand to be correct, no matter the circumstance.

The truth, when I really thought about it, is that moral is not a mutually exclusive character trait. Morality is a sliding scale that we use to measure the intentions of our behaviour. It is a empty word, with shallow meanings, that society uses in order to fit actions into boxes.

So if I really ask myself who is moral? The only real answer I could come up with that didn't make me uncomfortable, is to say that moral is the person that acts with good intentions and deeds both publicly and privately. Moral is the person that gives charity publicly, and treats their family with respect and the way they deserve to be treated. Moral is the person without double standards or contradicting ideas. But moral isn't really a person at all, its a persona that we choose to take upon ourselves, a continually evolving entity that isn't bound by age, rather by experience.

-LF, LR and MG xx