Morals are a common topic of discussion for all the philosophy majors out there. College students are forced to dwell on them when they move to liberal, highly opinionated campuses such as UC Irvine. Issues such as cage-free eggs, vegetarianism, anti/pro-Israel debates, agnosticism, atheism and, homosexuality cause moral tornadoes on our campus every day. Consequently, it is rare to find a student who doesn’t care one way or another about a topic like gay marriage. Chances are one harbors some opinion of it. Maybe he or she is part of the Campus Crusade for Christ, or perhaps a part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Center. Either way, one’s morals will no doubt differ from many other students and faculty on campus. So how do we determine morality? How do we decide what is moral in other people?
For starters, look at who we define as moral. Consider Mother Teresa and Norman Borlaug. Mother Teresa is a household name. She dedicated her life to serving the poor and helping the sick. She was also photographed countless times helping underprivileged people in need, and was given the Nobel Peace Prize. The woman is practically considered a saint, all because she cared about the world. However, beneath the surface you’ll find that while Mother Teresa’s missions of goodwill offered plenty of blessings to those in need, they provided very little relief from harsh conditions, and the services offered were that of dangerously primitive healthcare.
Keeping that in mind, who the hell is Norman Borlaug? He is the father of the ‘Green Revolution’ that effectively reduced world hunger by using agricultural science. He is credited with saving over a billion lives, more than anyone else in history and much more than Mother Teresa. Borlaug is now a 93-year-old agronomist who has spent most of his life in labs and nonprofit organizations. The media has given him little coverage and, as a result, he is relatively unknown.
So who should be considered more of a moral saint? Mother Teresa meant well, but the fact remains that prayer has nothing on modern medicine. Can we consider Mother Teresa as no different from the commonplace Samaritan because of all the self-satisfaction she gained from her good deeds? In contrast, Borlaug saved over one-sixth of the planet’s population with his efforts.
This comparison of morality turns into a matter of sanctity versus efficiency. The public eye can be easily swayed by dramatic intentions of goodwill, while successful actions go unnoticed for the most part. In this case, the idea of holiness also plays an important factor. There is no right choice between Mother Teresa and Borlaug, but keeping in mind the differences between their efforts certainly puts their influence into perspective.
What about the way people determine morality? Unfortunately, humans are not built with moral-o-meters to logically determine what is right and wrong. For the most part, ideals are evolving with the experiences of each new day. While such a moral base suggests high subjectivity, there are some morals that are regarded as universal. Murder, rape, robbery and sacrilege are not simple matters of custom, because they are universally looked down upon.
These contrast heavily with more subjective values. For instance, someone can say, ‘I really don’t like Ron Paul, but I don’t care if you vote for him,’ while it would be incongruous to say, ‘I don’t really like murder, but I don’t care if you kill that guy.’ Another rule under debate is the belief that it is righteous to punish those who are immoral. For example, when the bad guy in a movie shoots the hero’s lady friend and runs off, the audience roots for the hero to chase down the bad guy and exact his revenge for committing an immoral act. Not only is it acceptable to inflict pain on those who have broken a moral law, but it is also wrong not to do so.
Remember in the first ‘Spider-Man’ movie when Peter Parker lets the robber get away with the fight organizer’s money after he underpaid him? The fight organizer approached Peter afterward and asked, ‘What’s the matter with you? Why didn’t you stop that guy?’ In most cases, people would have forcibly stopped the fleeing criminal for acting immorally. However, since the fight organizer had just recently wronged Peter, he chose not to take moral action and was then condemned for it. Likewise, people have no qualms about retribution against those who ‘deserve’ it, or those who have acted in an immoral manner. As the Welsh philosopher Bertrand Russell once said, ‘The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists