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July 2, 2013 / Congau

Moral Principles

I suspect a certain confusion of language here. You set out in the search for a universal morality, but then you immediately limit it by using the term “right”. “Right” is a legal term and works best in a legal context, but you have already made it clear that law and morality is not the same. Quite possibly, your maxim might be a good principle for a country’s legislation (the laws of a society can’t be perfect anyway), but it is very insufficient as a guideline for personal conduct.

You mention some examples of actions which don’t hinder the rights of others, like doing drugs and not wearing a seatbelt. So I have the right to do drugs? A moral right or a legal right? We are talking about morality, so you mean a moral right, don’t you? Then let’s skip the confusing legal language and translate it like this: It’s not morally wrong for me to do drugs. Well, I happen to disagree. In my opinion, it is morally wrong to do drugs, but I need another moral principle to support that claim.

There must be other morally objectionable actions besides those which limit other people. It must also be wrong to damage oneself. True, it may not be a good idea for a society to limit strictly personal conduct, but actions that only involve oneself may also be very immoral. It may not be illegal to knock your own head with a hammer, but I’d say it’s still very wrong to do it. Not only would it be stupid, but also, in my opinion, it would literally be morally wrong. To make that claim I suggest a principle like this: An action is wrong if it hurts others or oneself.

This I would deduce from an Aristotelian principle of virtue stating that an object or an organism is good if it fulfils its own purpose. That is in fact also the way we ordinarily call something good. A good car is a car that works like a car is supposed to work. Also a human being is by nature meant to work in a certain way, and if one goes against its nature, that is if one hurts a human being, one does something that is not good, that is immoral. You yourself are just as much a part of nature as any other organism, and therefore it’s just as wrong to hurt yourself.

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