Morality is not as popular a subject as it had been centuries ago. Indeed, many of us have taken the position that morality is an unnecessary and even obnoxious subject to deliberate on. Modern education throughout the world is inclined towards the improvement of things that are used by man, not towards the improvement of man. So, words like virtue, and ethics have been deleted from the academic curriculum. These words may be found in the books written in the olden days by the ancients but today, it is extremely difficult to discuss morality without being accused of being dogmatic.
It is pertinent to probe the relationship between morality and the nature of opinion. Everybody is entitled to his opinion, whether his opinion is honest or not, or whether he is biased or not. That is an unwritten law. Here, Plato’s definition of true and false opinion bears important relevance to our present discussion.
By false opinion, he meant unjust opinion and by true opinion, he meant just opinion. Facts alone cannot insure just opinion. For instance, a man knows all facts about the honesty of his neighbour, but because he does not like him for personal reasons, he expresses his opinion that the latter is dishonest and bad. A self-centred, immoral person’s opinion is usually unreliable and unjust, whether he knows the facts or not.
Opinions to be true must be based not only on facts but also on the justness of man. Opinion becomes dangerous when it becomes an expressive tool of biased self-will or a disguise of subjective self-judgment or self-interest. In other words, an opinion to be true must be based on morality and morality is independent of opinion.
These days, we see that public opinion is more imbued with self-interest and self-will than natural justice and right reason. Law and order whether national or international are maintained not by the ‘natural order’ but according to human will and political expediency. We are no longer eager after righteousness but interested in gain and profit. Thus the notion of virtue has become vague to this so-called modern generation.
The vision of right is obscured by the emphasis on self. Self-interest has elevated to the zenith that morality is almost completely discarded. It is not true that man cannot know what is right and what is wrong, since all men are endowed by nature, as Cicero says, with the “intuitional right reason”, which is another name for true conscience. One can know one’s conscience only by one’s conscience. The point is not anything other than willingness. If a man is unwilling to be moral or to be right because of his pride, ego, or selfishness, what more is there left to be said?
The concept of morality is a gift born to us. It is an attribute to man alone. And it is this moral intuition, the sense of right and wrong, good and evil, that elementally distinguishes man from animal. And the sense of right or wrong or moral intuition is not limited to big events or great things: it is essential in one’s every little detail of one’s daily life.
One does not have to commit murder or adultery to be immoral. Every little thing contrary to one’s conscience can be deemed immoral. Much is given to us and so more is demanded of us. Only man is capable of being moral as nature intends him to be. We do not know of moral or immoral fish, just or unjust dogs, nor do we know about any virtuous horse or pious donkey. It is a man who is capable of moral obligation towards his fellow men. Morality, above all, concerns one’s thoughts, motives, and intentions.
Morality demands a man not merely to perform apparent moral acts but to be moral himself. In the end, man is judged not by what he does but by what he is. What he does is to be accounted for only in relation to what he is. Intent and motives are all important and no action is actually meaningful if it is separated from them. This is morality; it is to think, do, and behave all in accordance with the dictates of one’s conscience in all little details of everyday life.
Dr. Sanjeev Gandhi is an Associate Professor at the Government College, Radaur (Yamuna Nagar) Haryana. He has been teaching for 25 years.