What’s the point of morality?

I’ve avoided using the word “moral” for quite sometime. I’ve never found it helpful in discussions. I feel like when people talk about what is “morally” acceptable, they are talking about some sort of universal judgement. But by using the word “moral” in some form, they distance themselves from talking about the particular situation in more detail. Maybe I’m wrong. Are there situations in which the word “moral” adds clarity, nuance, or, really, anything that could be said without using the word?

About JoeL

I completed a Master of Music degree from McGill University. I am currently working towards an Artist Diploma also at McGill. I like to do philosophy as a hobby.

6 thoughts on “What’s the point of morality?

  1. I often use the terminology of morality in banal situations, where the term doesn’t really belong. For example, in my refusal to drink decaf coffee or in my efforts to listen to entire albums rather than individual songs. I do this for a variety of reasons. One is to highlight how out of place morality is to much of the modern imagination. This would I think accord with your post. But another is to highlight the connection I think we need to make between aesthetics and ethics: morality is a matter of taste, but far from making it arbitrary, this means that we have a responsibility to cultivate good taste. I may just be rambling here. Does anything I’ve said connect with what you were asking in your post?


  2. The places where I hear it used are usually done in a way that redirects the conversation: Ok guys, this, this here, what we are talking about, is a “moral” issue — so let’s get abstract and go straight to whether God exists or not. It’s maybe not quite as bad as that, but that’s the sense I get. Maybe I’m just talking about a certain kind of jargon that tends to hijack conversations that are getting interesting. They are interesting because we are staying in the particular situation and occasionally referring to ideas very closely related. The problem arises when people want to forget about the particular situation and start talking ONLY about things in general.

    As far as music goes, it has long held a deep connection with morality, one’s character and ethics. Plato and Aristotle both held that music had an affect on individuals and society. These writings influence theorists to this day.

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  3. Aristotle and Aquinas both have something to say about moral virtue and intellectual virtue. Neither of which are the same thing but neither of work working with the Cartesian conceptual frameworks that we usually are when we hear and employ “moral.”

    All this is to say, maybe working with Aquinas’ definitions would show ways in which the term/concept of “moral” actually functions more attentively than what we are accustomed to.


  4. On another note, the framing of your question assumes a utilitarian purpose is required for each word. While yes, I agree that we our words always function in particular ways and are “doing” something… what is the point? Well, I don’t know. We’d have to look to the limits of the particular language games X word is playing around in and what family resemblances X shares within it’s own game and parallel games.

    Vive La Wittgenstein!


  5. Thanks for the comments! I’m actually trying to apply Wittgenstein in my post. I guess I don’t do a good enough job of naming it. Basically, I’m trying to say that, in my experience, certain terms tend to hijack good discussions. The limit that I’m looking at is that it limits good discussion when words like “morality” are brought into the question. I just don’t see that they add anything to these discussions by saying, oh by the way this is a “moral” issue. Then people tend to get confused about what morality REALLY is and that discussion on what is “moral” replaces the very productive particular discussion. I think that the language game of determining what “morality” is or what it can be also has its productive place among us people. I just think that it’s often brought in, perhaps unintentionally, as a way to sidestep the issue. Does this help?


  6. hmm. yes. you raise something interesting here. I wonder if the problem of hijacking a good convo has less to do with the particular word “moral” or “morality” and more to do with one’s general philosophical disposition. If “moral” or “morality” is functioning in a way to dismiss or escape the discussion at-hand then the working assumption is that questions of morality are not always in play in the ways one conducts her or himself in conversations (including where, with who, where, when and how). As if, somehow there is not always and forever some kind of moral at play/work.


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