When Edward Gibbons wrote his epic tome, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, his analysis was directed toward a moral standard. Essentially he concluded that Rome fell due to a lack of moral standards. Indeed, the last hundred years of caesars left a record of envy among those dictators today for cruelty, abomination, secual excess, and whatever else one wish to heap on their heads. Of course it has been suggested that it was an economic collapse which is less than a judgment from god than it a judgment of poor management. Toynbee sought to portray the rise of western civilization as due to that Christian belief system that created the economic and moral well being of those centuries after Rome until now. Of course both men were convinced that morality was the province of god and religion. On the other hand the eastern beliefs tend to center on right behavior rather than a god-like moral purpose. But in either case we are talking about behaviors of individuals. Now some would go farther and place morality with the human soul. Perhaps that could be the case but mankind has never come to agreement as to just what is a man’s soul. Descartes tried to deal with the dualism that such thoughts created when he described the mind body problem. Now, morality no longer proceeds from ontology, of first causes, better know as god. Yes, some believe in their version of god and the morals they believe have been given them by their god. I see no real problem with that line of thinking as long as their sense of morality does not interfere with my own. Unlike many religious believers, I do not require that everyone believe as I might. I prefer to let them believe as they may as long as they keep it to themselves.
I like a morality that is practical, pragmatic, if you will. I recognize that humans, individuals have foibles and errors in thinking. I recognize that as children we do not always receive the discipline and training we need to form a moral code for our actions, out behaviors. That is a shame since at some point in our lives we may well need that moral code to exist with others. What re believe regarding behavior that takes into account the rights of others, their feelings, as well as our own, is of paramount importance for it guides our behaviors and thoughts. Yes, I said thoughts. For an individual cannot be true to the good intentions of his actions if he is not true to the intent of his thoughts. For example, how can one say that condemning a man to death is immoral and yet uphold abortion on demand? The deliberate taking of life is the same, the difference is who decides and who does the deed. If we declare that we have no use for any man so that he must be put to death, does not the woman declare that she has no use for a child so that it must be put to death? Now I am not arguing for an end to abortion. Personally, I would rather that abortions do not happen unless they are critically needed. Of course that is the slippery slope, isn’t it, need as an excuse. But we might say the same for the death penalty in criminal matters. If there is no way to socialize an individual back into society so that they can be trusted not to engage in criminal behavior, then what is the alternative? It is a question of need. Why do we need criminals who will not change their behaviors so as to exist in society in a relatively peaceful manner and with trustworthy behaviors? Just a poor woman no more needs another mouth to feed and raise and may not be able to count on any help from the father, then why do we need to keep a murderer around?
Keeping people alive at any price simply because we might feel that life is priceless is stretching the point. Why should we as a society spend millions of dollars each year keeping people who are functionally brain dead alive? Where is the good of it? That perhaps after five or ten years they will one day snap out of it and become normal again? Not very likely. On the other hand what do we decide to do about a pregnancy that is the result of rape? Rape in itself is a violent enough crime and its effects on the woman are quite far ranging and damaging. Perhaps in criminal matters we should let the community weight to outcomes. But there is a crossover between community and individual in the case of rape. This morality thing isn’t all that easy, is it. For we can raise the same problem in matters of self defense. If a husband abuses and beats his wife or his children or both, then this is both an individual and community matter. If a child kills his father in the fear that the father will continue such abuse, or if the wife is faced with the same fear, or if she fears for her children, then we have a severe problem. You see, the world is neither black nor white and all the shades of grey we can define, and then some.
I would believe one of the ways we could face these problems even if we cannot always objectively solve them or find redress to them, it through a personal moral code. This is something that our parents, our schools, and our community groups need to address. This doesn’t mean we teach in lock step a specific set of moral codes to which all must adhere. I see the problems that are generated when governments at every level try to legislate and regulate morality. We cannot teach situational ethics such as it is alright to steal from a crook but not an honest man. Either steeling is wrong or it is not and no situation can make it inhabit two entirely different states of definition.