The issue of morality is very important. Much has been discussed about it in philosophy. However, in the fields of psychology it has also shown remarkable importance . It happens that the way people act, and think, is closely related to their morals.

Its conceptual and characteristic aspects

In its etymology, the word comes from the Latin  moralis which is equivalent to ” way of living ” according to certain customs.

The definition of morality is obvious at first glance, since in everyday language the term refers to good and socially accepted behaviors and, moreover, ordinary people perfectly understand its importance.

It must be said that morality is quite relative . In fact, it seems to have variable connotations according to the discipline from which it is studied. Therefore, in the next section of this post we want to talk about the reference to morality from the psychological perspective.

Morality seen from psychology

Morals are quite complex. Accepting this complexity is part of the premises of psychology. Now, from the psychological perspective, the notion of morality has two meanings, which we detail below:

  1. It is a part of consciousness that integrates the cognitive and emotional processes that allow the structuring of an inner guide. This kind of inner mandate (moral conscience) systematizes individual behavior, in accordance with the values ​​accepted by the social group to which they belong.
  2. It is also seen as the process of assimilation of moral conscience (moral maturation).

The moral is then the way in which individuals choose to behave in society. For the great philosopher GWF Hegel, when behavior responds to the values ​​actually realized in history, it is called ethics.

Confusions between morals and ethics

It could be confusing to distinguish moral problems from ethical ones, since in common (and cult) language, morality is synonymous with ethics . However, it happens that there are relevant nuances between both concepts.

However, ethics is a construct of philosophy , which defines the principles and values ​​that guide people and groups. An individual acts ethically when he respects principles and convictions. On the other hand, an individual is moral when his actions are in accordance with his customs and consecrated values, which at some point could be questioned by ethics.

It is then the case that individuals can be morally correct because they respect customs , but they do not have to be ethical because they do not obey the principles. This is one of the keys to understanding the dissimilarities between the moral and the ethical.

Analogy to express differences between morals and ethics

Use the analogy of “home” to explain it. We have to break down this analogy to understand it well:

  • A “home”, by concept, should be organized spatially by rooms (dining room, kitchen, bedrooms, etc.) and humanly (interrelationships of its members and with their neighbors).
  • These aspects are ordered according to principles and values, to ensure a good coexistence.
  •  This would be called ethics and ethical character of the members.
  • Now, within the “home” people are governed by customs, ways of relating, and so on.
  • This behavior guide is called moral or moral posture of its members. And that moral will give rise to the ethics of individuals.
  • In its practical dimension, the analogy serves to explain that ethical principles depend on having had good morals in the home, that is, harmonious and inclusive relationships.

Morality, as it is understood in these times, encompasses what is done out of habit in an established society and age. This statement leads to another: what is morally correct in one part of the world does not have to be in another, and even this varies over time.

Some examples regarding this concept

Examples are everywhere. The Chinese eat dogs, cats, and whatever animals they deem suitable for food . Which in any country in Europe is punishable by law and is morally unacceptable.

People always act under a moral sense , they follow customs assimilated in a society or group. Morality includes some ethics, but ethics does not include any morals. Therefore, it is always necessary to take into account the very difficult to discern differences between ethics and morals.

In specific cases, when ethics is brought into codes of behavior and these are accepted by the majority of people in a society, they are transformed into moral codes.

After doing the previous tour, what is morality anyway ? Well, in short, morality is a mental construction that results in a certain conduct or situation that may or may not be ethical. And this construction is nothing more than the set of norms and rules obtained throughout life.

The importance of models of moral behavior

Morality is a social construct because it depends on the parameters that society itself dictates regarding good and bad behaviors. For this reason, all morality is built in the human conscience from the moment the child begins the process of socialization.

Moral formation is necessarily a gradual and continuous process, adjusted to the particularities and conditions of each age, and is regularly oriented towards the development of three cognitive-affective aspects: 

  1. The moral judgment, in the first instance and great relevance.
  2. Emotional sensitivity to moral expressions
  3. Self-control of individual behaviors.

The first aspect involves the development of cognitive and critical abilities. In this way, the individual will learn to outline the conflicts of life and will be able to apply the most appropriate principles to resolve them.

The second aspect is related to the development of the emotions and attitudes that are essential to decide according to these principles: empathy towards others, knowing how to put oneself in the other’s point of view, solidarity, cooperation, humility, the value of life, among others.

The third aspect is linked to reflection and weighting of the consequences of potentially harmful behaviors. It is a substantial part of the socialization process. It is in itself the ability to act prudently or integrate the habit of self-regulation into life.

Actions defined as morally good provide satisfaction and personal growth to the people who put them into practice. On the contrary, negative actions, such as stealing and cheating, which are regularly confronted with the morals and laws of a society, lead to marginalization and social disapproval.

Relationship between morality and laws

The laws of a country regularly punish with the deprivation of liberty, monetary reparations and / or social work actions that violate the basic principles of social coexistence and damage in one way or another the integrity of people.

Although not all immoral actions are considered crimes by national legislation, all acts classified as crimes involve moral offenses. Likewise, what several decades ago was regarded as morally reprehensible behavior today is not.

In any case, the changes in the appreciations of what is moral or not will always depend on each society and its cultural conditioning factors. There are conservative societies whose moral standards have remained unchanged.

This is how laws have nothing to do with morality . It is a curious reflection derived from the study of Law. In any case, the laws are something rather practical and in that sense they must be understood.

Codes and moral judgments

The moral codes provide a social structure in the context of a culture. The foundation of many laws responds to moral codes. Social coexistence is only possible in an environment of moral prevalence, because this is a necessary component for compliance with the laws and respect for others.

Consequently, it is the moral judgment that guides the rational action of the individual throughout his life, without undermining the rights of others.

The moral and ethical formation is the central axis of the humanistic and social development of the individuals. Moral judgment, moral conscience, implies a preponderance of knowledge that stimulates self-knowledge, self-regulation and responsible management of individual freedom. But, in addition, the moral formation induces in the subject the sense of belonging to a society and a territory.

Obviously, the prevalence of conscious citizens , in a framework of solidarity social and personal relationships, is due to the formation in values: commitment, responsibility, tolerance, freedom, honesty, among many others.

The subject of morality and the State

It corresponds to paraphrase E. Kant, for whom the State did not have the duty to ensure the happiness of social actors , but to establish guidelines that ensure the freedom and equality of all citizens in legal terms.

The citizens of a State are capable of establishing for themselves the moral and legal norms that order their conduct. But, legal norms, which emerge from morality, acquire punitive value because they act in a coercive way and reveal the obligation of their fulfillment . The social contract, mandatory compliance represents the balance between the moral mandate and legal mandate, which is called the categorical imperative, which protects the exercise of freedoms cousin dials.

Other considerations on the subject of morality

One of the maxims of morality is to tell the truth . However, the truth, in a conflictive context, can generate irreparable harm to an innocent person or a victim . Therefore, this maxim of morality comes into conflict. Is it useful or good to always tell the truth?

For example, if a student is a victim of bullying by one of his classmates and manages to get rid of or hide from his bully, it would be morally reprehensible for a third classmate , who knows where he hid, tells the bully where he is, even if he is ask him.

For this reason, telling the truth must pass, in some circumstances, through moral discernment , to place the essential above the ordinary.

Playing fair is not a metaphor . All sports games have strict rules that respond to morally acceptable behavior. Cheating, breaking the rules, dishonesty, corrupts the harmony of the game. In the same way, a society in which its members more or less comply with moral norms tends to corrupt coexistence.

Certain virtues regarded as morally accepted

The generosity is a moral value. It is not about giving away what you do not have, or being a great philanthropist, it is enough to have the ability to share with others not necessarily material aspects, such as friendship, joy, experience; in short, one’s own time.

There is no envious person who is a good person at the same time . Any individual who is envious of the material or immaterial goods that another has is of bad heart.

Yes, envy is a very negative emotional and cognitive manifestation. In extreme situations, envy leads to verbal and physical aggression from the person who is the object of envy.

The moral behavior is contrary to envy; on the contrary, virtue is on the side of those who share the happiness and well-being of other people. Even the individual who stands out for his skills and virtues is seen as an example to follow.

The tolerance is another moral value of importance in these times of increasing political, cultural and social tension. And tolerance is linked to respect for what is different, for what is alien to one’s own social and historical context. In short, tolerance towards diversity: the ideas, behaviors and beliefs of others.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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