Introduction to Moral Reasoning/Why Study Moral Reasoning?

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Our actions stem from our thoughts, and such actions influence the lives of others. Unfortunately, we are not born with a "code of conduct". Rather we absorb our morality from our parents, schools religions, societies and, sometimes we also have to adopt the codes of professions. But such impositions only provide general directions, they do not solve specific questions as to how we should live our lives or how should treat other people:

  • One approach is to seek the knowledge of leaders whose wisdom is respected and simply follow the herd.
  • Alternatively, one could d take such wisdom as one finds and then engage is moral reasoning to determine whether ones actions are right or wrong.

Even in making the choice to seek the knowledge of respected leaders, or to choose a life-philosophy or religion, one is making a decision regarding right action - e.g. "Is this leader, philosophy or religion the correct one to guide my life-stile and inform my choices?" Even the decision to hand one's decision-making power over to another requires that one be capable of making a decision - hopefully the right one.

Most of us have no choice in our religious, social or moral formation - it is imposed by parents, teachers and politicians. Only later in life do we have the ability to choose to follow a particular religious calling or to rethink our early indoctrination in the light of some seemingly more relevant as in any other similar choice, one can benefit from the application of moral reasoning.

In strongly religious societies the ability to break with convention and make an informed choice is not available without punishment for religious offenses.

In secular and democratic societies, with less rigid rules, it is often necessary to to make a good choice, has powerful consequences thereafter. Our lives, and our effect on others, are governed by the decisions we make, and the consequences of our decisions are likely to be governed by the quality of the decisions we make. The ability to make good decisions - however we may end up defining "good" will impact our lives, how we treat others, how we are treated in return. The ability to have a good framework for making our own decisions will allow us to make better decisions than a person who does not so educate or increase themselves.

While we will often find ourselves lacking good information, and sometimes lacking in the ability to perceive pertinent facts (our ancestors did not know of the existence of microbes), the ability to formulate good decisions with whatever information is available can enable us not to merely muddle through, but to intelligently choose the most effective roads. In an uncertain, complex, and always-changing world, we cannot always count on good data or rely on being able to fall back on past experience and precedent, so it is ever-more important to have the ability to make "good" decisions with what we have, and that requires the ability to choose or recognize what we know to be "good" or "right". Moral Reasoning serves this purpose.