Moral Justification in Ethics: Examples of The Role of Emotions

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About this sample


Words: 1224 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: Sep 20, 2018

Words: 1224|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: Sep 20, 2018

Table of contents

  1. Role of Emotions in the Context of Moral Justification
  2. Examining Ethics With a Help of Logic
  3. Works Cited

“Rules and criteria for ethical judgement are all very well, but when conflicts are finely balanced, we simply express our preferences.”

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The concept of moral justification in ethics examples has been a topic of discussion for centuries, dating back to the days of Plato and Aristotle. Ethics, which serve as a code of values to guide our choices and decisions, determine the course and purpose of our lives. As human beings, we are constantly faced with moral dilemmas that require us to discern right from wrong. While our instincts and emotions may initially inform our actions, the vast majority of ethicists have historically relied on reason to develop and justify their moral structures. We must strive to apply moral reasoning in our decision-making process to ensure that our actions align with our values and beliefs, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling life.

It does not take much intellectual prodding to see that pure, cold logic will hardly suffice to solve all our ethical dilemmas. If we were to examine our present global overpopulation crisis with a purely logical eye, for example, we might very well be able to deduce that wiping a few billion people off the earth would be the simplest and most effective solution to the problem. Very few human beings, myself certainly not among them, would agree, however, that this mass slaughter is by any means a mora approach to the problem at hand – it is clearly not the right thing to do. This is because our emotional reaction – especially the feeling of sadness or empathy for those killed – overwhelms the practicality of such slaughter.

Role of Emotions in the Context of Moral Justification

We can see, then, that emotion is necessary to some extent in the justification of our moral decisions; even Aristotle, who determined his ethics on a rational basis, found happiness to be the ultimate goal of morality and pleasure the crowning good. Modern psychologists have taken the emotional approach to its fullest extent, arguing that morality is nothing more than a combination of emotions.

It seems to me, however, that this approach leads us on too dangerous a path; certainly, these emotions are necessary in order for us to be moral, but they are not the crux of morality, and such an emotionally – oriented mode of thought can easily draw us into an over reliance on emotion, a slippery slope for many reasons. Emotions are different for everyone and very much subject to influence by external factors which could include anything from specific events to deeply – rooted psychological conditions. They can be violent and turbulent; sometimes, they defy our very nature and cause us to do things we would not normally do. If, for example, one is overwhelmed with grief after a friend is killed by a drunk driver, it might seem just to avenge said friend by murdering the irresponsible driver; one might even feel satisfied having done such that it is moral to kill the driver. Even if we are able to feel the ‘moral emotions’ in most cases, stronger opposing emotions may overrule them and cause us to commit immoral acts at other times.

For example, In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where Macbeth’s greed overrules his morals and causes him to kill for power. Even in day – to – day scenarios, we find that our emotions often contradict our morals. For example, I once met a group of teenagers in London who were generally amicable and shared many of my interests. As they were showing me around the city, one of them threw a clump of mud in the direction of an Arab couple for spiteful fun. Shocked and disgusted as I was by this blatantly racist act, I never openly condemned the responsible boy; my moral outrage was clouded over alienated and rejected, and I kept my ethical grumblings to myself. We face similar, if less drastic, situations much more often than we would admit, especially as teenagers; ‘peer-pressure bascd on our innate fear of alienation-dictates how we act in many scenarios, in a much more subtle way than drug-awareness commercials will have us believe.

Emotions like fear, then, act as a veritable obstacle to correct moral action, and it is clear that each individual’s subjective emotions cannot be relied on as a basis for moral decisions. Instead, we need a fixed reference point upon which we can base such choices For many years, the Bible was cited as such a source, but given that it relies on blind faith in a God whose existence is highly debatable, it does not represent, to me, a valid guidebook. Let me add, then, that we need a more objective point of reference, and this can only be obtained through the use of reason. Reason has long been accepted as the most objective way of knowing, and it has been, for most philosophers, the path to truth.

Examining Ethics With a Help of Logic

Many thinkers have attempted to construct a logically sound ethics system from which we can base our moral choices, resulting in systems that have included Aristotle’s virtue ethics. Perhaps it is impossible to create a completely fixed point of objective moral reference after all; we must satisfy ourselves by examining the different ethical theories and using our logic to formulate our own basic moral principles. Having done this, we can then rely on our moral emotions-on our ‘gut feelings’-to help sort out practical ethical concerns.

Let us examine, for example, the rational moral premise that it is never right to kill – justifiable under the Platonic view that it is never right to do harm, and that to kill is harmful. Even this, though it is one of the most basic and widely accepted, sometimes needs to be supplemented by our emotions.

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In the United States, where gun violence is so prevalent, we often hear of cases where policemen shoot and kill dangerous criminals. Only minutes before I began writing this, a news report struck me that a murderer of three was shot dead on the scene of the crime by a security guard. This guard has been praised for having, in all likelihood, saved the lives of many, but I see his actions as fundamentally wrong, based on the basic moral principle we began with. Nevertheless, if the situation ultimately boiled down to the guard’s death or the killer’s, as it may have, then it becomes much more tricky. This is where our gut feeling instinctive ‘moral indignation,’ as Richard Beck calls it- has its place. In a kill or be killed situation, where the opponent is a dangerous criminal, our instinctive emotional reaction may justly override our initial rational premise. This demonstrates that certain situations require a more nu rted reaction than rational principles alone can provide that emotions, too, have their place in morality. Having seen that both reason and emotion have their place in justifying our moral decisions, and that neither alone can suffice when it comes to making such decisions, we find that it is necessary to strike a balance between the two; pure logic is too cold, but over – reliance on emotion may lead us on a dangerous path, away from our moral concerns. In order to be truly moral, we need a logic-based moral framework which we then complement with the “moral emotions’ to make the appropriate ethical decisions in all cases. Therefore, reason and emotion are equally important in ethical choices, decisions and thoughts.

Works Cited

  1. Aristotle. (1998). Nicomachean Ethics. (T. Irwin, Trans.). Hackett Publishing Company.
  2. Foot, P. (2002). Virtues and Vices: And Other Essays in Moral Philosophy. Oxford University Press.
  3. Kant, I. (1993). Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. (J. Ellington, Trans.). Hackett Publishing Company.
  4. Mill, J. S. (1998). Utilitarianism. (G. Sher, Ed.). Hackett Publishing Company.
  5. Nagel, T. (1986). The View from Nowhere. Oxford University Press.
  6. Nietzsche, F. (1967). On the Genealogy of Morals. (W. Kaufmann & R. J. Hollingdale, Trans.). Random House.
  7. Rawls, J. (1999). A Theory of Justice. Harvard University Press.
  8. Scanlon, T. M. (1998). What We Owe to Each Other. Harvard University Press.
  9. Singer, P. (2011). Practical Ethics. Cambridge University Press.
  10. Williams, B. (1981). Moral Luck. Cambridge University Press.
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Moral Justification And Ethics in Business. (2023, March 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 14, 2024, from
“Moral Justification And Ethics in Business.” GradesFixer, 29 Mar. 2023,
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