The maze of morals

You may have listened to a recent episode of the Moral Maze (link below) which debated the issue of moral education in schools. I found the programme confusing; it suggested to me that even well educated and thoughtful people may be sadly ignorant of the elements involved. You may disagree.

This week I am listing some questions inspired by the programme because you may well be able to throw some light here. Given that we may sometimes find ourselves discussing these issues with non-Catholics, it will be helpful if you do not major on ‘Catholic’ answers, remembering that morality throws up questions to non-believers just as it does to believers.

1 Is moral education primarily about teaching the young which actions are wrong and which actions are right?

2 Is moral education primarily about developing the skills of moral thinking so that pupils are able to decide on moral codes themselves?

3 Is moral education best not taught directly, but incidentally – when issues arise within other subjects such as science and history?

4 Should schools have no responsibility for moral education? This is the duty of parents: the schools’ job is to teach facts not values.

5 What common basis do we have for moral principles, or is any basis a matter of personal choice? (I think here particularly of teaching in non-faith schools.)

6 How would moral education deal with the fact that different cultures have different moral bases? For example, a culture with different approaches to the rights of women, homosexuality, capital punishment, democratic tolerance, etc.

While I have numbered the questions so that you can identify to which one you are referring, feel free to give more general answers. Raising additional questions on this subject would be valuable. What I have written is only a start point.

Moral Maze

About Quentin

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101 Responses to The maze of morals

  1. Zara says:

    I really think that there is a real decline in moral standards that has been ongoing since the 50s or 60s, especially as far as Christian morals go. I think there is a real embarrassment about teaching children right from wrong. The real answer is that it is everyone’s job to help bring up children, partly by setting an example, and partly by teaching them personally.

  2. St.Joseph says:

    We bring our children up in the same way as we live our lives.That goes for those who dont have morals too
    I would expect teachers in schools to speak about morality when they are supervising a class.
    I see a big problem with the media and TV where the Soaps send out lots of messages to vulnerable children as a way of life ,( dog eat dog) who are allowed to watch them.
    It will always be the same.

  3. John Nolan says:

    ‘The schools’ job is to teach facts, not values.’ Step forth, Mr Gradgrind!

  4. Nektarios says:

    Can we before we get into the pros and cons of moral education be quite clear what we mean.
    So what is morality and morals?
    Can we also get clear what we mean by the Judeo-Christian tradition on morality and morals?

    • Vincent says:

      Nektarios, that’s a good question. I’ll leave Judao-Christian for now. And I find morals easier to understand through thinking about how I use the idea.

      Take the sentence; I ought to feed my children. I can use the word ‘ought’ in more than one sense.

      1 I ought to feed the children or they’ll start crying.
      2 It’s four o’clock so I ought to feed the children.
      3 I ought to feed the children or I’ll be punished for neglect.
      4 I ought to feed the children; it’s my duty as a parent.

      Only in the last sentence am I making a moral statement. There are other sufficient reasons for feeding the children but (4) is the statement which witnesses my recognition of moral obligation. The statements (1) to (3) are utilitarian only; (4) is a statement of right or wrong.

      Therefore a moral statement is about a decision between right and wrong. Note that it is not a utilitarian statement, it may in some circumstance be counter utilitarian. But the obligation remains.

      That do, for starters?

      • Nektarios says:

        I can’t wait for your next posting.

      • Singalong says:

        I have always thought of the 10 Commandments, the basis of Judaeo Christian morality, as being the maker’s instructions, for the ultimate benefit of mankind, and therefore utilitarian, even if not always for the perceived or short term benefit of an individual.
        For instance I would think of your reason no. 4 as fundamentally utilitarian, because if you do not feed your children they will become ill and die, and so there will not be another generation, and you will have no one to support you in your old age (in theory at least! or in earlier societies)
        I think most obligations can be thought of in a similar way.

      • Vincent says:

        It’s certainly true that wrong behaviour has its consequences. So, for example, telling lies can have damaging outcomes. But if consequence were the only reason, it would not be a moral judgment. Why could I not simply say: but in this case my telling a lies would give me personally a great advantage, so why should I not?

      • Alan says:

        I don’t understand the basis of statement 4. Suppose someone makes a similar claim to duty but to do something we might consider immoral – perhaps along the lines of –

        5 I ought to kill unbelievers; it’s my duty as a member of the faith

        On what basis can you challenge that “moral” statement if it is a declaration of duty without utilitarian underpinning?

  5. When I was at school (1936 – 1946) I cannot remember being given any ‘moral education’ as such!
    1) What springs to mind here is the ‘Ten Commandments’ . I learnt about these at school (and probably also at home) although I cannot remember the particular context.
    2) ‘the skills of moral thinking’ – I like the story about commandment 6 – “When asked ‘what is adultery’ one of the children replied ‘something that adults do’.”
    3) I would agree with this point – which is presumably how I was taught.
    4) This reminds me of an incident when I was about to sit my ‘School Certificate’ . One of my more studious classmates asked our teacher “Aren’t you going to tell us about how to approach this exam that we are going to sit soon?” and the answer he received was “You are here to be educated not to pass examinations.” (1944??)

  6. Nektarios says:

    Is morality/ morals simply about right and wrong, or is there a bigger picture, that of, how is Man to live, towards God, his immediate family, his neighbours and all mankind?

    • Vincent says:

      No doubt. But since Quentin has indicated that we shouldn’t major on religious approaches, I thought it best to look at the recognition of moral obligation in terms of human nature first. I could imagine a teacher raising, as an example for exploration, a topic like bullying. I would hope that a discussion on the rights and wrongs of this would help people to understand moral responsibility in action. Of course, from this foundation, I would foresee consideration of its source –why does it bind us?

      And behind that I would see a different question which is: how do we identify the moral principles which enable us to distinguish right from wrong? You will know that different criteria for this takes us into moral philosophy, which is a major branch of philosophy as a whole.

      But of course we haven’t yet debated whether morality should be taught in the schools as a subject in its own right. Were we to do so, I think it would well be within the intellectual capacity of most teenagers and – at a more elementary level – for younger children.

      • Nektarios says:

        Is the accepted morals morality? Morality is the morality of respectability – and we all crave to be respected – which is to be respected as a good citizen in a rotten society. Respectability is very profitable and ensures one of a steady income.
        The accepted morality of greed, envy and hate is the way of the establishment.

        While we often complain about young people and their morality, it is they that say,
        `You older generation, it is you that has created this world of racial distinction and war, we don’t want any of it and so we revolt.
        But again, this revolt becomes fashionable and exploited by different politicians, so we lose our revulsion at all the older generations immorality. But now, we young people hate your morality and have no morality at all.Perhaps we too in time will become moral respectable citizens.’

  7. Geordie says:

    Modern society in the UK has all kinds of views on what is moral and what is immoral. The only immorality which seems to receive general disapproval by the vast majority of people is the sexual abuse of children.
    Even this is limited. Under-sixteens are not protected as they should be. In spite of the fact that sexual activity is illegal for under-sixteens, they are provided with contraceptives with or without parental consent.
    Attitudes to the physical abuse of children varies greatly. Smacking a naughty child is frowned upon but the destruction of children in the womb is okay. It’s diabolical.
    Other forms of immorality are debatable.

    • milliganp says:

      There are other areas of common morality. Most would agree stealing is wrong but many would buy goods at a price that indicates they could not be legal or pay “cash in hand” to a tradesman. So relativity of some sort is now applied to every one of the 10 commandments.

      • jimbeam says:

        Every day is Christ-Mass. Every day [looking at Joseph] is Good Friday. Every day is Sonday. 3 in 1.
        Sundays are a day of mutual agreement for the Church to celebrate Christ-Mass sacramentally, and give a nod to the resurrection (remind Jews what they are missing). If I work or don’t make it to Mass today, I don’t have to go to confession or even feel guilty.
        If however I don’t observe the Sabbath (see again my first sentence), then Christ is not the center of my life.

      • John Nolan says:

        I certainly would not buy goods I knew (or suspected) to be stolen. It’s illegal anyway. I was not aware that paying someone in cash was either immoral or illegal.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Also the morning after pill sold on the internet to young children-so I am told.
      Easy porn on the internet,where young can get hold of it, Also magazines in garages and shops under the eyes of youngsters.

  8. Advocatus Diaboli says:

    Of course there is no such thing as right and wrong. What you call moral thinking is simply an emotion which has developed through evolution because moral rules enable societies to operate better and so enable societies to survive. But of course they are supercharged by turning them into something sacred, and threatening dire punishments for infractions.
    You can see a current example in “Islamic State”. They have turned their ambition to create a state and to eradicate the existing population into a Muslim imperative. Ironically that imperative is a figment of their imagination — but they are not the first religious movement to make up its own sacred rules and apply them for their own convenience.
    Right and wrong are no more than a method of crowd control.

    • Nektarios says:

      You are not really reading nor digesting what I posted earlier, Evolution, isn’t Reason,
      but an escape from Reason, having no answer for the Cosmos being here, nor the uniquieness of man. In fact it has plenty of discarded theories littering the past road,
      and nothing to contribute to the present apart from more theories to confuse and trip people up as it still litters the ground.
      What do you mean by,`what you call moral thinking’…..?

      • Advocatus Diaboli says:

        Nektarios, those who are quick on the draw often shoot themselves in the foot. If you read what I said, you will see that I made no reference to evolution as some kind of mystical principle. It is a matter of observable fact that if a group has a tendency to behave in a way which enables it to prosper, it will be more likely to breed successfully than a group without that characteristic. Over a sufficient period of time its progeny will become a larger and larger component in the population..
        Your wish to replace scientific fact with some kind of religious overtone is one of the reasons why religions are rightly written off as superstitions.

    • milliganp says:

      AD, you have just described what Japan wants to do – moral education that contains no morals, merely desireable social behaviour.
      Work hard, keep quiet, do not try to be a individual, respect everybody older than you and, when you finally suppressed any natural component of your personality, play video games and collect worthless material trinkets rather than living a meaningful life.

      • Advocatus Diaboli says:

        Milliganp, I am amazed at you criticising my approach to morals. There’s no point in my replying because, although I see that Quentin has asked some tricky questions about moral education, no one has actually attempted to answer them. Am I really to believe that a bunch of Catholics has no idea about what moral education might be, let alone whether it might be desirable to teach people how to make moral judgments? I won’t waste my powder here.

  9. Singalong says:

    Vincent, 5.52, no Reply button, my thinking is that if telling lies is permitted, we have a society in which it is difficult to trust what we are told and so everybody suffers. This is why God gave us that commandment. His morality is for our benefit, even if individually it is sometimes difficult.

  10. Iona says:

    Advocatus Diaboli, I think what you have expressed is what I have heard called “the boo – hurrah theory of ethics”.
    Insofar as morality is explicitly taught in schools, I think it is considered part of the “personal, social and health education” curriculum (PSHE).
    Inevitably, schools have to have rules which children are expected to obey, but these need not be presented as morality, simply as “these rules are necessary so that we can all get along together, and the school can accomplish what it is here for”. Wider rules, such as are needed for society not to disintegrate completely, might be presented as subjects for discussion, which can lead children to consider what they think is “moral” and why.

    • Vincent says:

      Yes indeed. But calling it “boo hurrah” does not in fact dispose of it. Thankfully, your contribution brings us back to the classroom. And it would be very interesting to take the phrase you use for explaining the rules and ask a class to discuss whether the need for wider rules in society have any moral assumptions which lie behind them. Why would I, for instance, have any obligation to benefit wider society when it is not of benefit to myself?

      Do you ever use the phrase ‘moral responsibility’ and, if so, what meaning do you give it?

  11. Quentin says:

    Now that Iona has brought us back to the classroom we might address the question of whether morality might be tackled directly in the schools, or only incidentally. A direct approach would call for examining the ways in which people have suggested that we might establish what the moral law requires.

    One approach which is popular is called Utilitarianism (or Consequentialism). Here the moral question is: is what I decide to do going to bring about the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people?

    This assumes of course that we have a moral obligation to benefit people — but how practical is it as a method of deciding between right and wrong? For instance, an argument could be made that abortion under many circumstances would be moral. The foetus suffers little or no pain, but the mother who is distressed by the pregnancy would be very much happier.

    I am certainly not attempting to introduce abortion as a subject for discussion here (tempted as we often are to get off the point!) but to look at Utilitarianism as a good or bad way to distinguish right from wrong. In our society most issues in the public domain are argued in terms of this principle.

  12. St.Joseph says:

    Also if teachers are there to teach why are young people given sex lesson and contraceptive info
    That ought not be a part of their studies.and go on to Uni.!

    • St.Joseph says:

      As the birth control pill is an abortificant ,surely they would think of their childrens health if not the early abortion!

      • St.Joseph says:

        What would you advise your daughter to do?
        We were told to keep our hand on our’ hapenny’
        Thats what we did at 15-perhaps thats the reason I had so many boyfriends at that age!!.

  13. Nektarios says:

    As we live in such great disorder, not only outwardly, the society in which we live is in utter disorder: social injustice, the racial differences, the economic division – the society in which we live is actually complete disorder. And if you observe in yourself, we are also in disorder. And a disordered mind cannot possibly be free. And so order, which is virtue, is necessary. Order, not according to some blue-print, blue-print of certain groups of moralists, or priests or those who say, ‘we know and you don’t know’; order is virtue, and this order is from moment to moment, not a final order.
    And this order can only come about when we understand what is disorder. Through the negation of what is disorder, order comes into being. The disorder of the morality of the society – in denying the morality of society there is order, because society encourages acquisitiveness, competition, envy, strife, brutality, violence – look at the armies, the navies, all the rest of the business of it – that is disorder. And when you inwardly deny for yourself – not the army, not the structure of the society, but inwardly, in yourself, deny fear, ambition, greed, envy, the search for pleasure, prestige, which breed disorder inwardly, then in that total denial of that disorder there comes the order which is beauty, which is not merely the result of environmental pressures or environmental behaviour. So there must be order and then you will find such order is virtue.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I agree with you on the disorder,
      However we need those who are responsible to create this order. There is no modesty today nor has there been since the sixties. No self respect or respect for others,not for their posessions their property or their bodies.
      There is such a thing as common decency and dress code especially in schools with mixed classes.

  14. Iona says:

    Vincent – you asked whether we ever use the phrase “moral responsibility”. I don’t think I do. I might talk about responsibility, but not moral responsibility.

  15. Iona says:

    Utilitarianism can’t account for why it is we admire (as being morally praiseworthy) someone who stands up for what s/he believes in, even though this stand may have nothing but painful consequences for him- or herself. For example, those many Syrian and Iraqi Christians who could have made life easier for themselves by converting (or, pretending to convert) to Sunni Islam when threatened by ISIS, but who instead have said “No”, left all their possessions behind, and walked off as refugees.

  16. Nektarios says:

    Can compassion, that sense of goodness, that feeling of the sacredness of life, can that feeling be brought into being through compulsion? Surely, when there is compulsion in any form, when there is propaganda or moralizing, there is no compassion; nor is there compassion when change is brought about merely through seeing the necessity of meeting the technological challenge in such a way that human beings will remain human beings and not become machines. So there must be a change without any causation. A change that is brought about through causation is not compassion, it is merely a thing of the market place. Perhaps the morality within education of children, is no true morality, but one of the market place?

  17. Quentin says:

    I hope it will be useful for me to make a point or two here. I start with Alan’s comment (11/9, 11:35)
    he presents a further possible statement;: 5 I ought to kill unbelievers; it’s my duty as a member of the faith. “On what basis can you challenge that “moral” statement if it is a declaration of duty without utilitarian underpinning?” he asks.

    This is certainly a moral statement, even if we should think it to be objectively wrong. Aquinas makes it clear that we remain bound by our decision of reason nevertheless.

    Iona does not use the phrase ‘moral responsibility’ but I think she may be missing a distinction. If we agreed that I would be responsible for locking the back door at night, I would not see that as moral, or only marginally so. If she has lent me money I am responsible for repaying it; I see that as moral responsibility.

    Nektarios is concerned about the uselessness of compulsion in these matters. His point has weight if we speak of external compulsion, but not if we speak of internal compulsion through recognising what we ought to do.

    • Quentin says:

      A problem which has arisen here lies in the fact that a decision may be both utilitarian and moral. I go back to the example of Iona lending me money — which I must repay. There are good utilitarian reasons for my doing so: if I don’t she will not lend me further money, she may sue me in court, I many lose her friendship etc. None of these reasons are moral — I am after the quid pro quo. But, supposing she is a kindly person, I may be confident that she will do none of these things. Nevertheless I am still obliged to return the money because I made an implicit promise to do so and because it would be unjust to deprive her of something which is rightfully hers. That’s the moral obligation. It is of a quite different order from utilitarian reasons, although either might lead to the same outcome..

      • John L says:

        Quentin, that’s a very good example. Let us go further… If you do not repay, there is the moral issue of theft, and even if you ask forgiveness but do not repay, the debt remains. If she is a kind Christian, she may forgive you the debt. Nevertheless, and with all the forgiveness on offer, the original theft has damaged your relationship with her and it is unlikely that the original relationship you had with her will ever be restored this side of the grave. It seems to me that moral issues, pace Advocatus Diaboli, go very much deeper than appear on the surface. I suspect that this may be part of the reason why some of us are labouring to address the original points adequately.

      • Alan says:

        Does the utility happen to go hand in hand with the sense of obligation or is the feeling of obligation a device that arises from the utility? Is there a way to demonstrate a distinction?
        Geordie’s example of the “burden” of the mentally handicapped tries to separate how most of us feel about justice and the treatment of the vulnerable from a utilitarian position, but I’m not sure it’s as practical as it might first seem. A world where both myself and my loved ones, should we become sick enough, were at risk of being euthanised against our will might not be a better one from any perspective. I might get sick just worrying about it!
        Is there a clear example of a widely accepted moral obligation that isn’t practical? Or do they nearly always coincidentally run along parallel lines?

      • Quentin says:

        John L, I suspect that behind your comment there is a criticism of Utilitarianism which has to be taken into account. By implication you have suggested that there may be both short and long term consequences to an action. We can go one stage further still: my refusal to repay Iona is actually damaging society — that is, a society in which people reject their debts cannot operate as a community. I am contributing to that. And that takes me to Alan’s point.

        Yes, there is a connection between utility and morality. An important way of deciding between right and wrong rests on the acceptance that for anything to flourish it has to be treated in accordance with its nature. (Never better expressed than by Aristotle) We see this set out in,e.g., the UN Declaration of Human Rights where the nature of human beings directs us to the basic rights which we must respect.

        Since man is a social animal who needs to live in community we need to be ready to keep our promises and undertakings. If we fail to do so, the community breaks down and we all suffer. This approach is known as Natural Law. Of course from a believer’s perspective the concept is completed by holding that our natures have been given to us by God. But even the most secular of people genuflect to the Natural Law when they disapprove of the offences of others.

      • milliganp says:

        Quentin, at last a mention of Natural Law. Part of the problem of the type of questions this blog proposes is that it presumes some common starting point beyond mere social custom or social utility. Catholics believe (but that is a faith statement) that the natural law is written into every heart (or mind).
        At present David Attenborough has a series running on the TV about animal behaviour. Using modern technology his team is able to capture aspects of behaviour in animals never before seen. Most recently hunting dogs in Africa obviously showing exceptional group behaviour which seems far more than mere animal instinct.
        Going back to the classroom perhaps we could take an AD like approach and ask the question “what should we not teach and why?”. The de Bono method of asking the double negative might help.
        We don’t want chaos in the clasroom, wrecked buses, chidren stealing sweets from the local shop, drug dealers in the school yard. But do we want the honor of the corps taken to the point where troops commit war crimes, and figures of authority end up beyond the law abusing children in care homes.

      • Quentin says:

        “Catholics believe (but that is a faith statement) that the natural law is written into every heart (or mind).”

        I don’t think that it is a faith statement, any more than, say, the principle of cause and effect is a faith statement. We grasp through reason that an entity has a propensity to flourish through acting in line with its nature – being fish or fowl or sweet red herring. We can test it by its opposite: “an entity flourishes by acting against its nature” is absurd. We can then see it in action through experience. Two difficulties then arise.

        The first is establishing what that nature requires. In broad terms this can be obvious – thus our social nature tells us that a society which puts no value in truth cannot flourish. But getting down to the details is harder. Nevertheless we can still have meaningful discussions with non-believers – and often do. The Declaration on Human Rights is a secular , cross–cultural, document.

        The second is that, on the face of it, we can damage our natures if we choose – just as I could, if I wish, damage an article I own. However, believers go one important stage further. We accept that God created our natures, and therefore we hold them in trust for him.

    • Nektarios says:

      When I was a boy I was brought up on a farm. On the farm things had to be done, animails had to be fed, ploughing, sowing seed, harvesting and so on. My old man was
      not one for many words and I learned everything by example – how to take care of the animals and so on.
      In those days there was a community and farmers helped each other. The women folk got together too. In a sense we children learned everything by observing. We grew up quickly, learned by observing. There was no compulsion as such, but great care of each other, interdependence.
      Of course everything was not perfect, but as to morals and morality, it was perceived in my childhood not simply as right or wrong, more of failure to care, to love, to enjoy life and each other. Such thinking did not, as I say come by compulsion.
      Regarding internal and external – this is merely a descriptive, when in fact there is only one, internal and external together.

  18. Geordie says:

    Utilitarianism always appears attractive until you look at some of the consequences. It seems to most people that the mentally handicapped are a burden which must be borne. Some go further and think they are suitable cases for euthanasia. They have no experience of the joy these chosen ones of God can bring to society. How do we explain to a godless society that these people are spotless and in a perfect relationship with God? It is not a burden but a privilege to know them.

    • Singalong says:

      Geordie, Quentin does not want us to concentrate on Judaeo- Christian morality, but for those of us who are Catholics what else can we do? Our values and priorities are shaped by love and appreciation of our relationship to God, as you say.

      The Jews whom Christ first taught were already following the 10 Commandments, the expression of God’s Natural Law. He came to fulfill this law, and to go beyond it. He commissioned His apostles and disciples to teach and spread the precepts of His Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, to the Jews and to all nations, and to emphasise the law of love. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God . . and thy neighbour as thyself. Amazingly, with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, they started to do this, and convinced many thousands very quickly by their words and example to try and follow His way of life, His morality, which was so different from contemporary pagan ways. Trust in Christ and belief in Him were necessary first, and then the strength of love to influence choice and action.

      This is still what is needed today, to be a sound basis for a true acceptable moral code.

      • Quentin says:

        Singalong, my reason for not majoring on Catholic ideas is that in the past all the emphasis was on the Church’s teaching — thus the moral life was one of obedience. Vatican II made it clear that we needed to use our reason to form our consciences. Thus, I am suggesting, we need to look on occasion (and this I hope is one) at morality and avoid dodging the issues through taking refuge in ecclesiastical fiat.

  19. St.Joseph says:

    Advocatus Diaboli
    A person has to have an informed conscience of what is right and wrong-that is what we are supposed to teach our children.
    A small example of honesty, if a person in front of you drops money out of their pocket, pick it up and give it to them. A cashier gives you too much change hand it back.
    It is simple really knowing right from wrong!
    I expect Quentin may expcet more than that in his answesr, however that is a small beginning,
    A good grounding for our children!

    • Alan says:

      St Jospeh,

      I think it would be a very good grounding for children to learn such things. What do you think the teacher should tell the class when one of them asks “Why is it the right thing to do?”.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Alan .
        It depends what the ask the teacher. Give me an example.

      • Vincent says:

        I think that the understanding that one should treat others as one would wish to be treated is something that even young children can grasp. (A child who cannot grasp it is probably too immature to learn about morality.) So I think I would explore with the child how they would feel if they were the recipient of the action. And how right or wrong they would believe it to be in that context. Morality which depends on obedience to a command on high seems to me to be thin milk. Morality based on one’s own recognition of right and wrong is the objective to aim at.

    • Nektarios says:

      Trying to be moral is immoral.
      Secular morality is a simplistic view and involves coercion, repetition and punishment. The point here is, who is the authority? Are they moral? When one realizes no one has authority, will the world descend into chaos – I very much doubt it.
      Is repetitive telling to to a child, moral or mere conditioning. Is dull conformity to the repetitive, conditioning by Governments, schools, Church, morality, moral? It may appear that, but that is not moral at all.
      To be moral is not conformity to a pattern set in a time, by a society, it is order.
      When one recognises the disorder in ourselves, then order comes into be being, a true order.
      To take as gospel, secular or religious morality, one is not in a state of order but disorder. Perhaps it is time to wake up!

  20. St.Joseph says:

    A week or two I came home from Chemo therapy and I felt so depressed and I just asked Our Lord to ;’Take me now’! As soon as I said it I felt awful-despair- selfish- when He gave me the gift of Life,and when so many people my children grandchildren, priests, Sisters., catholics, non catholics, are praying for me and on SS.
    I spoke to my priest who took me to task, and told me that God understands when so much medication is pumped into me every week. and it is not selfish to feel like that
    I dont know if that would be a question, but then i am a catholic also I meditate on the Crucifix.

  21. Ignatius says:

    best to listen to the programme carefully and make a few notes as you go.

    1 Is moral education primarily about teaching the young which actions are wrong and which actions are right?
    In many ways this is a discussion about law and desire. In any given culture the young need to know what is ‘wrong’ and what is ‘right’ . They need to know this as a framework. The problem comes when we try to step outside of cultural relativism. For example the ghetto mentality of 1970’s Ireland -of Catholic and Protestant prejudice. From this example we deduce that if we just teach cultural ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ we discuss only local behaviour and risk the magnification of prejudice

    2 Is moral education primarily about developing the skills of moral thinking so that pupils are able to decide on moral codes themselves?
    Leading from . Evidently number 2 here is nudging us to the thought that behind the lines, rules and resolutions there lives something called a moral good or ‘absolute’ which we must imbibe and from which we may be able to reason into morality. I agree with the last speaker in the programme that this is a tenuous line of thought which is impossible to prove. In a sense we are into an infinite regress in which your absolute may well not be my absolute. So probably we should teach the skill of debating and try and inculcate the sense of a moral good’ even though we may not be able to actually find one. Much of the programme hinged on this point

    3 Is moral education best not taught directly, but incidentally – when issues arise within other subjects such as science and history?
    Here was a proposal to avoid the pitfalls of 1 and 2. See what has happened (history) or what is empirically possible (science) then discuss the issues in the hope of arriving at some form of consensus…at any rate the debate is worth having.

    4 Should schools have no responsibility for moral education? This is the duty of parents: the schools’ job is to teach facts not values.

    Morality arises from life..or at least experience arises from life. School is part of life, a life in which learning facts is only a small part. Discussion of school based issues are valid and may give opportunity for discussion about issues not raised at home…or even the dubious nature of what actually does get raised at home.

    5 What common basis do we have for moral principles, or is any basis a matter of personal choice? (I think here particularly of teaching in non-faith schools.)

    Personal choice morality approaches the status of oxymoron because morality is to do with actions affecting others. However there is no such thing as an absolute set of moral principles acting as driver to the individual conscience everywhere. It is probably possible to come to a broad coalition on something like the 10 commandments or the sermon on the mount but that is as good as it gets. However the striving towards agreement is worthwhile in itself.

    6 How would moral education deal with the fact that different cultures have different moral bases? For example, a culture with different approaches to the rights of women, homosexuality, capital punishment, democratic tolerance, etc.

    Again it depends on what is meant by a moral education…given each education is cultural then the values of that culture would come forward. A more searching and idealistic approach would lay out the different views and attempt to analyse them from the point of view of an overarching system such as utilitarianism. As the last speaker on the programme pointed out this approach is probably based in wishful thinking or in deep rooted ideology.

  22. Ignatius says:

    PS These are my views as a catholic I might add.

  23. Nektarios says:

    Society has imposed on us a certain morality, and the society is the product of every human being. Society with its morality says you can be greedy, you can kill another in the name of god, in the name of your country, in the name of an ideal; you can be competitive, you can be greedy, envious, monstrous, within the law. And such morality is no morality at all.

    We want a kind of education where the whole of man is concerned, the whole of man, not just the cultivation of a certain segment of man but the totality of man. There is no such education. No university, no school, no college offers that. And of course religions aren’t concerned with that; they are concerned with dogma, with belief, with rituals and authority. So what shall we do?

  24. Ignatius says:

    “We want a kind of education where the whole of man is concerned, the whole of man, not just the cultivation of a certain segment of man but the totality of man. There is no such education. No university, no school, no college offers that. And of course religions aren’t concerned with that; they are concerned with dogma, with belief, with rituals and authority. So what shall we do?..”

    I must admit this all seems a rather strange and nihilistic view of humanity….who is this ‘we’ you speak of Nektarios?

    • Nektarios says:

      This world has already adopted a nihilistic philosophy in the West and now in the East.
      We are speaking about moral education especially within schools. Having read my previous postings on this topic, it runs counter to the present destructive and nihilistic
      So the we, is all of us, all of us with children or not, all of us who are wise who are learning all the time. The we of society, that is, we relating to one another and so on.
      We take in and are influenced and distracted by the media and so many other things, in so many ways, that the average person, even the intellectual is at a loss on the subject of morality / morals.
      Salvation in Christ Jesus is a total package if you like, addressing Man in totality, in every aspect of ones life, living and eternity.

  25. overload says:

    What does this have to do with morality, society, utility?
    Give me, good Lord, a longing to be with Thee, not for the avoiding of the calamities of this wretched world, nor so much for the avoiding of the pains of purgatory, nor of the pains of hell neither, nor so much for the attaining of the joys of heaven in respect of mine own commodity, as even, for a very love to Thee.
    (prayer from a famous English martyr & saint/antiChrist)

    John Nolan, cash in hand if seeking to undercut taxation is a subtle evil. Society will only waste it on trident and HS2? Not the point. We emulate the sin of society with that kind of self-righteousness. Furthermore, tax evasion suggests stinginess, hoarding mentality, idolatry of money: not relying on God as provider of all (inc. money!) that we need/want.

    John L, “with all the forgiveness on offer, the original theft has damaged your relationship with her and it is unlikely that the original relationship you had with her will ever be restored this side of the grave.”
    There is a difference between someone who cannot repay a debt due to poverty or other genuine reasons (thus relationship should be restorable) and someone who cannot repay because they are, for instance, unwilling to sacrifice worldly interest/security/comfort.

    As for school and morality; my memory of school is a place which largely separated the academic from real life, and what it inadvertently taught about real life was mostly skewed, as part of a superficial social structure. It helped me learn how to be imprisoned with inferiority complexes, amongst other such dark morals.
    Apart from ones home upbringing and school, moral education also has a lot to do with pop culture (tv, films, music, etc.)

    • John L says:

      Overload. I had in mind a case not of being unable to repay, but a refusal to repay (theft). I had thought this was what Quentin had in mind in his example – a moral issue, not an inability. However, never mind, your point is valid.

      • overload says:

        Another point regarding: “with all the forgiveness on offer, the original theft has damaged your relationship with her and it is unlikely that the original relationship you had with her will ever be restored this side of the grave.”
        Even with all the forgiveness on offer, yet if the thief wilfully determines to evade responsibility, or belittle the nature of the sin, or even dismiss it altogether, then there may be no opportunity for reconciling the other side of the grave either.
        One can be as forgive forgive forgiving as one likes to say and imagine, yet has one got a moral responsibility to do ones best to communicate to the thief — if perhaps he does not recognise (or fully recognise) it already — what harm he has done, and what might be expected of him?

      • St.Joseph says:

        overload. Hence the need for Purgatory!

      • overload says:

        Do many Catholics take Purgatory for granted, let alone Heaven?
        In the gospels narratives we have Jesus repeatedly warning the Pharisees that they are thieving the things of God’s. So it is conceivable certain kinds of theft, without repentance, may equate to the “unforgivable sin”. And this also becomes a personal theft against anyone who yearns for the Holy Spirit as their true self, yet is deceived or thwarted. For instance (I am thinking here of ‘the keys’, although Jesus is talking to the Pharisees): “You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matt 23:13)

  26. Singalong says:

    An aspect of this subject which occurs to me is that Catholic schools may well face difficulty soon, as the government’s education policy is to require all schools to positively approve and promote same sex “marriage,” as well as other immoral sex education, tolerance and love are not enough. Teaching as a profession, may soon become as difficult for Catholics as medecine is becoming.

  27. Singalong says:

    Quentin, Nov 10 6.32

    Even after Vatican 2, I don’t think there are many of us who are confident enough, well enough informed, and truly spiritual enough, to venture too far and too often from the refuge of ecclesiastical fiat.

  28. Iona says:

    There are some moral rules – or maybe i should call them “rules of social behaviour” which children learn from one another rather than directly from their teachers or even their parents. For example, “Don’t tell tales”, “stick up for your friends”, “don’t pick on someone much smaller / weaker / more vulnerable than yourself”

  29. Quentin says:

    My opinion carries no more weight than anyone else’s. But I thought it might be helpful if I at least indicated my thinking.

    Yes, I am very keen on moral education at all levels appropriate to the students. I say this because in general adults are morally illiterate. Right from the start they are often unable to distinguish between a moral principle and any other principle, despite their readiness to criticise the moral behaviour of others.

    In discussion they display no coherent ways of deciding moral questions, so they are often inconsistent. They are unable to distinguish what is morally relevant from what is not.

    If this is important for the secular world, it is twice as important for Catholics. As a community moral thinking is a novelty. Up to Vatican 2, it was not needed and so actively discouraged. Thinking confused the whole process of humble obedience.

    Nowadays we are presented with the use of our reason as the major instrument of moral decision. We must even take personal responsibility for accepting the moral teachings of the Church. If that should take us outside the Church, that is better than ignoring our conscience. It follows that good moral thinking based on good moral education is something which we all need.

    There is however a practical problem. I wonder how many teachers are trained to teach morals. They need themselves to have a good understanding to do so. And it takes some talent because moral thinking is a skill. It cannot be force-fed, While there is strong theoretical background, the skills must be acquired through practice. That is, through well guided classroom discussion and debate.

    • John L says:

      There you have it, Quentin. My mind goes back to R.I. with the Irish Christian Brothers, admittedly many years ago. In amongst direct catechetical work, apologetics etc., one interesting exercise at intervals would be to take a current news item from the daily paper and examine its moral aspects. E.G. “This strike at the Ford motor works… is it justified or not?” No earth-shattering conclusions were made, but we did have the advantage of discussing and thinking about morality in day-to-day life. Does this sort of thing happen in schools today, Catholic or other? I don’t know – perhaps some of our other bloggers do?

      • Quentin says:

        I think this is a fertile example. A few moment’s thought suggests the wide range of issues which can lie behind a simple question. Here, a good teacher would not try to give answers but to help identify the different aspects, and distinguish good moral thinking from, say, prejudice, or inadequate evidence. You could discuss this for the whole term!

        In a Catholic school one could then ask students to evaluate aspects of Catholic social the light of the discussion.

  30. Vincent says:

    I see that we have mentioned natural law and utilitarianism as methods for identifying right and wrong. But we should also mention Kant’s approach. He argued that the test of a moral problem was whether you could rationally think of it being made a universal law. So “you must pay your debts” is not just an opinion of mine, I claim that it applies to everyone.

    I test it by attempting to deny its truth. If it is not true then people are not obliged to pay their debts to me. To accept this would be irrational.

    • Quentin says:

      Yes, this is the approach philosophers tend to prefer. It is the first cousin to Rawls’ ‘veil of ignorance’ , in which you make your decisions not knowing whether you will be a beneficiary or a victim. (Rawls is a modern philosopher.) If you think about it, it is close to the ‘golden rule’. Useful though such methods may be for identifying right and wrong, they all fall at the last fence. Why should I not propose “you must pay your debts”, to you, while not paying my own debts? Then I get all the advantage. Without God the moral law imposes no obligation. This leaves those who insist on a moral law, but do not believe in a lawgiver, in a quandary.

      • Singalong says:

        Quentin, forgive me, but are we not back to the 10 Commandments?

      • Alan says:

        “Why should I not propose “you must pay your debts”, to you, while not paying my own debts? Then I get all the advantage.”

        I have some doubts that it would necessarily be advantageous in practice. I would have imagined the results would be mixed at best.

      • Quentin says:

        Singalong, indeed we are. But my emphasis here has been on us understanding and internalising the commandments rather than just accepting them.

        Alan, arguably. But your point is based on quid pro quo and so by definition without moral content.

      • Alan says:

        Quentin – What is the reason for that distinction in the definition where the resulting behaviour is arguably indistinguishable and the origins are unknown?

      • Quentin says:

        It’s a question of motive. In one case I might act because it’s in my own interests to do so, in another I might act because I recognise that I ought to do so. In many instances both will apply. In this second case my obligation persists even if it’s not in my interest because it does not depend on that. The two motives are not synonymous.

      • Alan says:

        “In many instances both will apply. In this second case my obligation persists even if it’s not in my interest because it does not depend on that.”

        You describe what the difference is by definition and I can see that there is this distinction in theory. I don’t see how you could establish or demonstrate that this is a distinction in practice. You say that in many instances both motives will apply. What would be interesting would be those instances where both didn’t apply and only the obligation to act in a moral way persisted, without the potential for self interest whatsoever. Do you know of such an example?

      • Quentin says:

        I daresay that one could always argue for the possibility of some self interest, however remote. So we have to consider proportionality: to what extent does the self interest match up to the moral demand? Suppose you and I agree, informally, to buy a lottery ticket. It goes for convenience in my name. And I receive a winning cheque for a million. If I refuse to share knowing that you will not be able to enforce your claim, the material advantage I get might well outweigh considerably the loss of your friendship. But I would hope that my pressing motivation would be the demand of justice. Everything else would be trivial by comparison. Incidentally, even living up to a friendship contains a moral element, unless I am cultivating it merely for my advantage.

      • overload says:

        Alan. Regarding “those instances where… only the obligation to act in a moral way persisted, without the potential for self interest whatsoever”
        The strongest example I can think of is Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. However, even though Abraham has no direct self interest in killing his son (the son who carries his future hope), it is impossible to say that there is no potential for self-interest, since by obeying God (if he can know that it is indeed God he is obeying), one is finding ones true self, or, if you like, escaping false self. How can it be anything else?
        First we must define the meaning of our “self interest”; if this is found in God, then the question is a matter faith, and how do we discern God’s will? If there is no God, then I would look to examine this within the framework of Buddhist teaching, although I would not expect to be able to do this with the example of Abraham and Isaac. However, Jesus going to the cross of his own freewill could conceivably be examined in the framework of Buddhist teaching. Unlike Abraham, Jesus is not acting in blind obedience, but knows the what, why and wherefore, both for himself (spiritual perfection) and the world he is (not actually) leaving behind.

      • Alan says:

        It does seem like a very tricky distinction to resolve Overload. We can describe what the difference is easily enough, but spotting it or isolating it in actuality feels much more difficult. Another thing that concerns me about the sort of example you describe, besides the point you make about whether we can certainly rule out Abraham’s self interest, is the question of whether what he did/intended to do was morally right at all. There was a point being made of course, but would that be accepted as justification by those without a Christian belief? Answering only for myself I would say probably not.

      • overload says:

        Alan, do you know the story of Jephthah, who sacrificed his daughter (at her agreement) to fulfil a vow made to God? Judges 11:29-40

      • Alan says:

        Sorry Quentin and Overload – I hadn’t spotted your replies until now.

        Quentin – “If I refuse to share knowing that you will not be able to enforce your claim, the material advantage I get might well outweigh considerably the loss of your friendship. But I would hope that my pressing motivation would be the demand of justice.”

        I would expect that in many cases of playing out such an example it would be more than just friendship at risk. I’m not convinced that the balance of self interest you are weighing up would be as you suggest. Making a potential enemy of a friend for £500,000 is a clear material gain? Either way, I can’t see anyone being able to put such potentially harmful examples to the test so I think we will both always be guessing at the proportionality.

        And the alternative would be a demand for justice – that cannot be a motivation in itself can it? I would wonder what motivates us to seek justice in the first place and that leads me right back to the same problem we have above.

        Overload – “Alan, do you know the story of Jephthah, who sacrificed his daughter (at her agreement) to fulfil a vow made to God? Judges 11:29-40”

        I’m not familiar with that story at all. I will have to take a look at it. What do Christians generally feel about such actions?

      • Quentin says:

        Justice is an interesting concept here. We might well in a particular case argue about whether it actually involved an injustice. But we would both know what the word meant, otherwise the argument would be meaningless. But we are still asking why we recognise an obligation to be just.

      • Alan says:

        I would say that my own question is not “why” but “how”, in practice, it is recognised so confidently as obligation. You discern it even in the acts of non-believers after all. By definition alone it can be nothing else of course, but in terms of motive and expression there is an alternative explanation that examples of selfish acts for material gain don’t rule out so obviously to me.

      • Quentin says:

        The religious response, no doubt not acceptable to you, is that God created us in his image and likeness. That is, he gave us the power to reason and the freedom to choose. We find ourselves in between an aspiration towards the good (summarised as love of God and love of neighbour) and a gravity which drags us down towards the bad. The non-believer must consider what his source of moral obligation might be in the absence of God.

        Elizabeth Anscombe, the philosopher, argued that all modern moral philosophy was tosh because moral law depends on a moral lawgiver. Moral obligation and moral responsibility simply have no meaning in the absence of this. So the non-believer must either deny such obligation, and follow through the logic of that, or he must accept the religious view, or he must live with an important question to which there is no answer.

      • overload says:

        With respect to this discussion, I wonder what you Alan/Quentin make of the Buddhist concept of ‘karma’, if you are familiar?

        Regarding the story of Jephthah and his daughter, I cannot speak for other Christians, to my mind it is obvious that a foolish and unnecessary mistake was made, and it seems it was dealt with positively and conclusively, perhaps even turning it into a blessing (one can at least speculate).

      • Alan says:

        “So the non-believer must either deny such obligation, and follow through the logic of that,”

        Following through with the logic of that is why I am searching for the sort of example I am. But the examples I am usually offered of the difference it would make seem to rely on the suggestion that some selfish act is to the advantage of the person undertaking it. Then it is concluded that the alternative (an obligation to a Creator) is the more likely motive/reason behind our behaviour because people don’t typically act that way. But the selfish acts that are proposed, as with someone not sharing a lottery win or “Why not do whatever you want then?”, seem far from certain to me to present a clear benefit. Someone will be better off financially in the short term if they keep a lottery win and “only” lose a friend but I’m doubtful that represents the whole picture. I cannot therefore spot a clear difference in practice between acting out of obligation and acting out of selfish interest in the welfare of everyone/everything. That may have implications for who we all are, but that doesn’t change the way it might be expressed. Or does it?

        “or he must live with an important question to which there is no answer.”

        I will remain ignorant and curious until I feel an answer is compelling. I couldn’t live any other way I don’t think. Believers live with some questions that I would find hard to set aside too. A few more for the unbeliever doesn’t feel like a greater burden. Just more variety perhaps!

      • Quentin says:

        It may be that at the present time we cannot get much further – we shall become circular. So let me just check that I understand your position aright. You are holding that the only motivation for a ‘good’ act (e.g. repaying a debt) is that the actor gets a quid pro quo which is proportionate to the act. If you cannot identify what it would be, you believe that nevertheless it will exist.

        My position is that I have an obligation to perform this good act whether or not there is a quid pro quo. If I say I do so because justice demands it, this is only an extension of the problem because I am recognising the obligation to be just (or not to be unjust.)

      • Alan says:

        “You are holding that the only motivation for a ‘good’ act (e.g. repaying a debt) is that the actor gets a quid pro quo which is proportionate to the act. If you cannot identify what it would be, you believe that nevertheless it will exist.”

        I wouldn’t say it with such certainty. It isn’t that I believe that such a motivation will exist regardless of being able to identify it or not. It is that I consider it a real possibility where no compelling case or demonstration is made that it could not be. It is an unknown to me. That the same thing seems to be a known to you is difficult for me to comprehend. Perhaps it is just a matter of proportion as you say.

  31. Iona says:

    John L – the question you were asked to consider by your Christian Brother teachers (whether the strike at the Ford works was justified or not) – my guess would be that people would tend to answer it depending on where they felt their allegiance lay: some would side with the workers, some would side with the bosses (is this in fact what happened, and did the teacher then try to focus them on considering the question from the other side of the fence?)
    Is this “tribal allegiance” reaction what Quentin meant by saying that most adults are morally illiterate?
    And is this why many people seem to have become disillusioned and apathetic about the political parties, – because they can no longer identify a given party with a specific tribal allegiance?

    • Quentin says:

      I would describe “tribal allegiance” as a result of moral illiteracy. The illiteracy itself would lie in not examining the effect of this allegiance. (See Rawls, my comment. Nov 12 5:55)

    • John L says:

      Iona, – well, yes, as Quentin suggested, the discussion would tend to begin with preconceptions and prejudices. What the Brothers would try to tease out of it would be the moral aspects of labour relations in everyday life, relations which were themselves plagued with preconceptions and prejudices. We were not fed with any ready-made solutions, unless a particular point related to some clear aspect of the Church’s social teaching which needed to be underlined. It was essentially a learning exercise, and in my view first-class R.I.
      I even seem to remember that our old friend A.D. had a representative there occasionally to supply his six-penn’orth.

    • John L says:

      Just an additional comment, which I won’t labour as it may be off-topic…
      The school in question was in Stoke on Trent, an industrial city where labour relations did not always fit the popular image. A book, “Landscape with Machines” by L T C Rolt describes his experience in a locomotive manufacturing works. Apparently when a quote was needed for a contract enquiry, the detailed costing was worked out at shop floor level by the men who would actually do the work. This meant that the balance between fair wage and competitive pricing was not the province of some remote “bosses” but was understood by the workforce. Mutual respect revolved around ability. This happy environment was eventually ruined by a “top boss” who was lacking in morality. The book is an interesting read, though it describes a time gone by.

  32. Nektarios says:

    I think Iona has hit it on the head, or at least partially.
    Our allegiences tend to be tribal.this has not changed really since the Fall. Tribalism makes for divisions and conflicts the world over.
    But I will not let Quentin off the hook with his comment `that adults are morally illiterate’.
    It is like saying, money isn’t everything, and the only people that say that are rich people with millions or billions of pounds or dollars in their possession. Yet they govern and are governed themselves by it.
    The artistocracy, under Royalty were the rulers. Were they moral? I think not.
    Then it was the Church that pontificated on what was moral or immoral, was it moral?
    Now we have descended down to academics appearing on a programme like `the Moral Maze’
    to tell us all what is and is not moral; what can and cannot be taught in schools – are they moral,
    not only as individuals, but as academic institutions in our day?
    It was not the young people that has produced this moral mess the entire world is in but adults,
    those in positions of power and influence. What lack of morals exist there?
    I think this merely academic approach solves nothing on the moral front at all.

    To think there was ever a golden age of morality since the Fall is being ignorant. To think we can somehow teach morality to the young without coercion or punishment by immoral authorities, again is ignorance.
    The starting place of morals is love. Start there!

  33. overload says:

    “money isn’t everything, and the only people that say that are rich people”.
    I think rich people tend to become more anxious about money, and dependant on it for the propagation / sustenance of a fragile and superficial self.
    Humble poor people on the other hand may daily live the effects of not having money (or rather of not having food / clothing / shelter / medicine / social clout, etc.), but they will be well attuned to reality (ie. money isn’t everything) in the fabric of their being, even if they are superficially conditioned to think that money offers the/a real solution to their problems.

    • Nektarios says:

      Quite so overload,
      But in the realms of poverty, denying of medicine, food and so on, is largely due to the greed of the West.
      However in all this, interesting though the discussion is, I sense we are sitting rather uncomfortably on the question of morality and morals and the teaching of it. Do we see how we move away from actual morals to a system and red-herring ideas on it?
      This is what those on the Moral Maze were advocating – the teaching of morality is a subject to be taught, by qualified practitioners. It is quite laughable.
      But the liberal and secular agenda want it taught, but it will be their morality, which is no morality at all. Morality and morals will be and are now, relativistic, and devoid of any meaning, enforced by arbitary laws.
      This has been happening for decades. It is hardly surprizing therefore that when it comes to morals or morality per se, many have a problem with definition.
      Is there such a thing as Christian morality, or does the source of morality lie somewhere else?
      Obviously, no one is perfect here on earth until Christ returns.

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