Sources of Morality

Yin and Yang love and hate moral and immoralWell, it’s Christmas, and it occurred to me that “what is right” and “what is wrong” are far too often more shades of gray than anything else.

One of the only remotely sensible options is Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative. This has problems though, with the most often cited problem running along these lines:

You’re living in Nazi Germany and are harbouring Jews to save them. A Nazi officer knocks at your door and asks if you have any Jews inside. You can lie or tell the truth. If you lie, you’ve violated the Categorical Imperative that you not lie. If you tell the truth, the Jews will die.

There’s no good solution to the dilemma there. You’re damned either way.

I think I’ve come up with a reasonable, although simple, solution to the moral problem. I’m not flushing out some details here as they’re mostly details, e.g. we’re assuming that you’re sane and rational, and not completely crazy. I’m also ignoring the actual action, as I don’t think that the action is really all that important. We’re talking about the morality of actions, and so any action will do. Also, I’m ignoring acts that are neither moral nor immoral, e.g. deciding whether to have an apple or banana with  lunch.

All acts that originate in love are moral.
All acts that originate in hate are immoral.

It’s simple, elegant, and I haven’t thought of anything yet that is a problem for it.

Here’s a test with a typical example used in philosophy classes in university:

A group of people are trying to escape from a repressive police state. They’re near the border, but hiding until they can run across to freedom. Among them is a young woman with an infant. The infant begins to cry. The young woman tries to comfort the infant, but it doesn’t stop. The guards will hear if she doesn’t quiet the infant, and everyone will die. She covers the infants mouth… but the only solution is to suffocate it or they will all be caught and killed. She suffocates the infant and saves everyone from the guards.

It’s a horrid thing to kill your own child. Under the Categorical Imperative, she’s committed a sin. But really, can we blame her? Can we say that she sinned? That’s very difficult to do. She has saved everyone she is with, at a terrible cost to herself. Her act comes out of love for the people with her, and not from a place of hate.

Those that love laws won’t like this at all. But then again, I didn’t say this was about laws. I said it was about right and wrong.

Anyways, I humbly submit this as a different way to look at right, wrong, morality, and immorality.

Peace and Merry Christmas,




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3 thoughts on “Sources of Morality

  1. I may have come up with one that is a problem for it.

    Darlene is an emergency room nurse at a hospital. Darlene’s best friend is dying in that same hospital. She needs a liver transplant but because she has a rare blood type, they are having a hard time finding a donor.

    An auto accident victim is brought into the emergency room. His injuries are bad, but not so bad that with proper medical attention he would most likely recover.

    He has lost a lot of blood and Darlene notices when she tests him for a transfusion, that he has the same rare blood type as her best friend. She also notices that he was carrying an organ donor card.

    When nobody is looking, she injects him with something that kills him but doesn’t damage his liver. The man’s liver is then harvested and transplanted into her best friend and she lives.

    Darlene didn’t act out of hate. She didn’t hate the man she killed, she didn’t even know him. Darlene acted out of love…she loves her best friend very much and wanted her to live.

    But what Darlene did was still immoral.

    1. At first glance, it seems like it fails there. But then again, there are two acts going on similar to the infant example above. However, I don’t know how a purposeful intent to kill cannot be out of hate. I suppose it requires looking at hate as destruction. Not sure…

      I’m flip-flopping. The idea came to me last night after a half bottle of bourbon, and I wanted to get it down, so it’s not well sorted.

      Still, I like the simplicity of it. While it might not work everywhere, I think there’s something in it that can be useful in many situations.

      Still mulling this all over…

  2. Oh… in the infant example above, the suffocation isn’t intentional. It’s an accident of covering the infant’s mouth. I didn’t articulate that very well before.