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Moral reasoning Essay

Moral reasoning is individual or collective practical reasoning about what, morally, one ought to do. For present purpose, we may understand issues about what is right or wrong, virtuous or vicious, as raising moral question.

When we are faced with moral questions in daily life, just as when we are faced with child-rearing questions, sometimes we act impulsively or instinctively and sometimes we pause to reason about what we ought to do. Much of our reasoning comes about through are position on an issue and how are principle effects that issue. Reasoning, so understood is an intrinsically normative concept. An important implication of this is that any empirical data that shows that we consistently think in a given odd way about morality can be taken in one or two contrasting lights: it can be taken to show that, since ‘this is what we do’ this is how our moral reasoning is. Alternatively, it can be taken to show that, in the relevant range of cases, we fail to think responsibly, and hence fail to engage in moral reasoning. And empirical data does not settle this kind of normative question for us.

Therefore does morality require each person to reason in the same way, on the basis of the same fundamental considerations?

In an idea world, people would do the right thing simply because it is right. In the world in which we live, morality is more complex. People often disagree about what is right. Even when a consensus on moral values is reached, many find that they do not consistently live up to a moral standard. One reason for this is that most people place a high value on their own welfare. They may have moral ideals and commitments, but concern about personal well being is a powerful motivating factor. It is more powerful for some than it is for others, but few can claim to be indifferent to it. Any significant gap between the demands of ethics and the urging of self-interest, narrowly defined, creates incentive problems for individuals and for societies wishing to maintain high ethical standards. The problems arise on two levels.

At the first level are the direct incentive problems or opportunism and desperation. Problems of opportunism arise when individuals willingly violate ethical norms in order to pursue opportunities for private gain. I believe an example of this is, ‘George W Bush and the invasion of Iraq’. The world was told that Suddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but to this day their have been no weapons of mass destruction shown to the world, rather George W Bush has gain notoriety as the president that went on to save the people of Iraq from a dictator. When analyzing this further could it be said that President Bush was concerned about is duty to protect the innocent people of Iraq or was it an opportunity to look good in the eyes of the world. What were the underlying principles.

The fact that there was supposed to be the weapons of mass destruction has now faded in to obscurity. Did he yield to temptation. Or where there other principles at work. Secondly problems of desperation arise when individuals violate ethical norms to avoid loss or hardship. Even if we grant that most people place some intrinsic value on doing the right thing as they see it, sometimes the risk or the temptation is just too great. Too often we are presented with evidence from our daily lives, from news stories, and from academic research, that well-educated, apparently normal individuals can be tempted or pressured into compromising ethical standards.

How then does this relate to the so-called real world? Human nature is not simple or uniformed, most people are not self centered, people often care about others. Nagel states “there’s one general argument against hurting other people which can be given to anybody who understands English (or any other language), and which seems to show that he has some reason to care about others, even if in the end his selfish motives are so strong that he persists in treating other people badly anyway”. Most people have some benevolent motivations and ethical commitments. Individuals have sympathy for the pains of others and take pleasure in others’ well being.

However, this care does not typically extend to all of humankind, but only to a referent group (Hirschlieifer, 1982). The size and nature of that group varies significantly from person to person. The care also varies in intensity, depending on such things as the closeness of the relationship with the other person, In addition to this passive care for others; people care about how they affect others. They generally do not want to cause harm, and do want to cause pleasure or satisfaction.

Therefore in conclusion if most people have a benevolent motive to do the right thing in society and take pleasure in making society a happier place this would have to mean that society would need to be consistent in the way it treats people. There would be no impartiality or objectivity, all reasoning would be done from a top-down position. We would all then walk around with happy faces saying hello to all we meet, there would be no fighting anymore there would be no wars, there would be punishments that is across the board and not consider other factor into play. Fortunately society is not consistent in its moral and ethical day to day practice the fact that as individual human beings we are guided in varies situations by varies events that caused the situation, this becomes a bottom-up reasoning were we are in turn guided by other judgements which lead us to constantly re-evaluating our moral ground.


Nagal, T., What Does It All Mean? A very short introduction to Philosophy: Oxford University Press, 1987

Hirschleifer, J., Evolutionary Models: Cooperation versus Conflict Strategies, JAI Press, Greenwich 1982

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