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The Object of Morality

The Object of Morality

  • An important question about morality is, “What is the object or goal of morality?” One may also ask, “Why do we need an institution of morality?” We can understand the function of certain institutions in terms of their goals, for example, the function of medicine is to improve health and combat disease and the function of social research is to develop knowledge about social life.
  • Thinkers like John Stuart Mill and Aristotle suggest that the object of morality is the creation and maintenance of conditions that allow the pursuit of a well-structured and happy life. By contrast, Kant seems to hold that the purpose of morality is morality itself, that is, duty is to be performed for the sake of duty, action should be rooted in “good will”, which is the condition of moral good.
  • According to some, morality is an institution of fundamental social importance. G. J. Warnock, like David Hume, holds that morality functions to ameliorate the tendency for things to “go badly” in human relationships. Conditions deteriorate in human affairs as a result of our limited resources, limited sympathy and limited information.
  • For example, we have institutions that house prisoners because they are persons who do not have enough of what they want in life, fail in their responsibilities to others, and make things “go badly” in social arrangements.
  • But things may go even worse when prisoners are placed in institutions in which guards have “limited sympathy” for them. Child abuse, battered women, litigation, broken contracts and dissolving partnerships are everyday examples.
  • Thus, Warnock argues that the object of morality is to contribute to the betterment of this predicament by countering the limited sympathies that persons have for one another which lead to unfortunate and even tragic situations.
  • Our natural sympathies for others tend to expand and contract because of the closeness or distance of our personal associations. Moral judgments function to condemn human plans and activities, such as ignoring fundamental human needs, invading privacy and inhibiting freedom, that make things “go badly”.
  • Morality functions to limit selfish actions that cause harm to others. It is perhaps appropriate to speak of moral judgments as fulfilling a preventive function, by condemning or demanding the avoidance of certain harm-producing human activities. It is also claimed that morality actually contributes to or actively promotes the betterment of the human condition.