Morals are something that every person has, but the shape and extent of them varies widely between individuals. Both day to day decisions about behaviour, and choosing which side to take in an international debate, are elements of life that are controlled and shaped by a person’s moral standing and reasoning.
Moral philosophy is the field of philosophy related to theories surrounding ethics, and about how people ought to behave and act during the course of their lives. Moral philosophy is split into three main domains. These domains are metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics.
Metaethics is arguably the more abstract part of moral philosophy. It addresses issues such as the nature of morality, and discusses what morality can be defined as, and the concept of moral language and its meaning (Moral Philosophy, 2011). The concept of morality, and its definition, has been argued for many years by a range of philosophers. There are various theories relating to it. However, most human beings will agree that their sense of morals is something that is inbuilt, or has at least been with them since they were very young.
In contrast to the abstract issues addressed within metaethics, normative ethics is mostly involved with offering a set of guidelines that can indicate what types of behaviours and acts are right or wrong (Moral Philosophy, 2011). Again, most people will agree that they have a subconscious set of guidelines within them that allows them to know the difference between right and wrong or, at least, what is right and wrong according to their individual guidelines.
Applied ethics is perhaps the most grounded element of moral philosophy. Applied ethics attempts to relate normative moral theories to particular circumstances in order to differentiate between right and wrong in various cases (Moral Philosophy, 2011). Examples of such cases might include human rights, capital punishment and crime.
The widely acclaimed philosopher, Immanuel Kant, claimed that moral standards are grounded in a benchmark of rationality he named the “Categorical Imperative” (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2008). Therefore, immorality implicates a break of the Categorical Imperative and is deemed unreasonable.
According to Kant’s theory, people base their behaviour upon their own inbuilt feelings on what is and is not acceptable, morally. Major debates polarise people’s views on certain subjects. For example, whether or not abortion is right is a highly contested topic which a great many people feel very strongly about. An individual will base their decision on their own set of moral standards and reasoning. Some people’s moral codes dictate that all life is sacred, and that this applies to foetuses in the womb. Conversely, some people’s moral reasoning causes them to believe that abortion can be morally sound in certain, if not all, circumstances. Similarly, a murderer may be able to rationalise killing another human being where many people cannot. It is this rationalisation, based on his own moral standing, that permits him to murder. Most people, however, tend to believe that murder is intrinsically wrong. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to know whether this rule is based on a person’s moral code or whether it is, in fact, based on the law and punishment system within their country. For example, in a country where people will be sentenced to death for the crime of murder, it is possible that the citizens will feel less inclined to commit murder than those who live in a country with a less harsh punishment.
Morals appear to be inbuilt in most people, and serve as a set of guidelines for what constitutes right and wrong behaviour, both in everyday life and in making major ethical decisions.
Moral Philosophy. (2011). Moral Philosophy. Accessed from
Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. (2008). Kant’s Moral Philosophy. Accessed from