Overlapping Moralities

C. George Boeree

There are three overlapping "moralities:"

A.  Individual "morality" -- individual opinion
B.  Society's "morality" -- social convention
C.  Morality (the real deal)

For example:  A plantation owner in 1850's Alabama.

A represents the plantation owner's personal code.
B represents the laws and social standards of 1850's Alabama.
C represents true morality.

1. Individual opinion only: The plantation owner believes that he can do anything he wants with his own property, including his slaves -- something most of his neighbors find a bit extreme.

2. Social convention only: Slaves must be registered with the state and, although most find this reasonable, it is something the plantation owner nevers bothers with.

3. Individual opinion  and social convention: Slavery was accepted and permitted in Alabama, which the plantation owner certainly agrees with.

4. Individual opinion and true morality: The plantation owner believes he has a moral duty to care for his elderly father, even though most of his neighbors would be just as happy to see the old coot croak.

5. Social convention and true morality: The state - and most people of that time and place - says that all human beings, slaves included, should be well treated.  The plantation owner doesn't always agree.

6.  True morality, separate from both individual opinion and social convention: Slavery is wrong and should be eliminated - even though that is something neither the plantation owner nor his neighbors nor his state legislators find acceptable!

7. All three: There are laws against murder, following general moral principles, and the plantation owner agrees.

  How certain overlaps can be interpreted:

1. A good fit between person (A) and society (B): the conformist, the solid citizen.

2. A poor fit between person and society: the misfit, the outlaw, the insane, the innovator.

3. A compassionate person.

4. A cruel person.

5. A virtuous society.

6. An evil society.

7. Moving towards the ideal.

8. Moral perfection: The individual and society are in complete agreement, and the principles involved reflect true, "ultimate" morality.  Not expected anytime soon!

© Copyright 2004, C. George Boeree