A morality is a complex of concepts and beliefs by which an individual determines whether his or her actions are right or wrong. Oftentimes, these concepts and beliefs are generalized and codified in a culture or group, and thus serve to regulate the behaviour of its members. Conformity to such codification may also be called morality, and the group may depend on widespread conformity to such codes for its continued existence.

Table of contents
1 In general
2 Rebellion against morality
3 Impact of the Evolutionionary World-view on Morals

In general

Views on morality have varied greatly over time, and from culture to culture. Usually, a morality applies to fields in which the choices made by individuals express an intention relative to other individuals (even non-members of the society). Thus, there exists an academic dispute about whether morality can exist only in the presence of a society (meaning a plurality of few individuals), or also in a hypothetical individual with no relationships with others.

A concept of morality may tend toward any of the possible directions in a given field, and moralities exist that recommend heavy restrictions on behaviours, as well as moralities that recommend totally free self-determination, as well as a variety of intermediate positions.

The efficacy of a morality depends on the social position and political representativeness of the group that espouses it, and on its relationship with the norms of the related society. A morality is put into effect through its influence on the society's general rules and formal codes—especially penal codes and the determination of juridically correct conduct. The fields in which the influence of morality is most commonly appreciated are sex-related matters, financial and professional conduct (with the notable example of deontology), and human relationships in general.

A morality can be derived from many sources. Very often, an individual's morality is influenced, to large degree, by religion or theology, but other sources are also often cited, such as objective (natural) reality or political reality. Religions typically hold that morality is not a human construct, but is the work of God. For example, in Judeo-Christian religions, one or another version of the Ten Commandments is held to have been issued directly to mankind by God. Moreover, religions often hold that the human conscience, the internal mechanism through which one senses the moral aspect of actions, is infused in mankind by God.

Many groups may, effectively, be distinguished by their morality, as a fundamental characteristic; in some cases, the common view on morality can be a basic factor of aggregation, as it happens in developed countries where the giantism of social structures causes (for other reasons) the need of building inside them sub-groups, identified by a common belief or view upon certain matters. This process, indeed, shows a similarity with the process of creation of political regroupements, and in fact sometimes the two fields (not always reciprocally) interfere.

On a subjective level, morality is a system of personal ethical conduct that the individual imposes on himself or herself. It is more concerned with individual choices, as a personal effect of free will, rather than with dispute resolution or conflict, and does not seem to imply a relationship with other individuals or groups. This subjective self-regulation can also sometimes be derived from religion or theology, but is also often seen as totally personal, unsharable, intuitive, creative and aesthetic (a "moral core").

The nature of morals themselves is often at issue between those who advocate shared morality or intuitive morality. They may be seen as rules, or simply as examples drawn from stories. Most sources of morality, e.g. the Bible, include both, although it is usually clear that the rules drawn in the story itself are more important than those observed within it as examples.

Rebellion against morality

Moralities often include rules and regulations that do not have obvious reasons for existing, i.e., no immediate, immensely harmful results of transgression are apparent. This is so because the harmful effects of such actions are largely indirect, but real nonetheless. Thus, the need for the particular aspect of morality may be questioned. It is not unusual for rebellion against morality to occur, especially by the developing members of societies, or those whose behaviour is especially affected. At times, this questioning extends to the society in general, even to the extent of changing of laws which prohibited certain behaviours. Sometimes, the abandonment of the previous moral stance is found to have no great apparent detriment, perhaps due to changed circumstances, such as technological developments. Usually, however, the rebellion occurs only until the harmful consequences of the previously forbidden actions, and the need for that morality, are rediscovered.

Impact of the Evolutionionary World-view on Morals

A corollary of evolutionary theory is that it denies the absoluteness of moral values. Opponents of moral absolutism such as evolutionary psychologists have argued that human morality evolved because it assists survival. An innate tendency to develop a sense of right and wrong may help an individual to survive and reproduce in a social, thinking species. Selected behaviours, seen in abstraction as moral codes, are common to all human cultures, and reflect, in their development, similarities to natural selection. This aspect of morality can be seen in religious doctrine, much of which deals with the acceptance, in people, of positive aspects, and the rejection of negative ones. Thus it can be argued that there may be a simple Darwinian explanation for the existence of religion: regardless of the truth or falsity of religious beliefs, religion tends to encourage morality, morality tends to encourage communality, and communality tends to assist survival.

Critics of this explanation say that it puts one in an impossible moral dilemma. My definition of who is wise and what is good may differ from yours. The problem is, who is to decide?

Furthermore, if the unimpeded progress of evolution were our chief concern, why should we care for the defenseless, the weak, or the sick? Would it not be more prudent to put them to sleep, lest they hinder the evolutionary process? Where is the rational basis for any sentimental feelings for the innate value of human life?

In some juridical systems, the word morality concretely means a requirement for the access to certain charges or careers, or for the obtaining of certain licenses or concessions, and generally consists of the absence of previous records on (e.g.) crimes, bankruptcy, political or commercial irregularities.

In some systems, the lack of morality of the individual can also be a sufficient cause for punishment, or can be an element for the grading of the punishment.

Especially in the systems where modesty (i.e., with reference to sexual crimes) is legally protected or otherwise regulated, the definition of morality as a legal element and in order to determine the cases of infringement, is usually left to the vision and appreciation of the single judge and hardly ever precisely specified. In such cases, it is common to verify an application of the prevalent common morality of the interested community, that consequently becomes enforced by the law for further reference.

See also: blue laws, sexual morality, moral relativism, moral absolutism, moral universalism, moral hazard

Compare: ethics