Morality 3: What is morality really about?

When I was in school, ethics was always so complicated.  If one person is travelling on a train and another train is travelling with ten people in the opposite direction – AND THEY CRASH!!! Who should you save? I think this entire method of teaching ethics left me with the feeling that morality is just too hard to understand and the best we can all reach for is a simple opinion on what is right and wrong (hmmm, sounds dangerously close to relativism now that I look back).  
It was CS Lewis who introduced me to a novel way of understanding what ethics actually is about.  He described morality as a fleet of ships sailing across the ocean toward a harbour.  In this little image, there are three profound ideas on the nature of morality.  
Firstly, morality involves each ship in relationship to the other ships.  This is the first purpose of morality.  Morality helps us to “stay in formation” with the others around us.  We can have a good community if we: don’t hurt others around us, if we don’t use them for our own ends, and if we treat others well.  The first purpose of morality is to live well with others.  
Now the second purpose of morality refers to the ship’s relationship to itself.  The ship should not do anything which could harm itself and lead it to sink. Likewise in morality we should not do anything which harms our conscience or our authenticity.  This applies well to the pornography crisis of today where individauls think that just because they are not harming another person the pornography is ok.  But, pornography does harm the individual through lust, desensitizing us to the act or Love, and fostering masturbation without a view to procreation.  Morality is meant to keep us in harmony with what is right, true, and good – essentially with our deepest selves.    
The third purpose of morality refers to where the fleet is going.   Morality too has a purpose namely the flourishing of the human person (Aristotle).  It is to leave the vestiges of selfishness and egotism behind, and reach into what is right and what is just for us all.  It is to live a Godly life in harmony with both ourselves and the people around us.    

Raj Vijayakumar is working at a retreat centre in Montreal.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 09:09h, 07 January Reply

    Thank you Raj!

  • Jim Radde
    Posted at 12:52h, 07 January Reply

    Thank you for the occasion to think.

  • Karen Arthurs
    Posted at 09:36h, 08 January Reply

    A topic (that I believe) needs more attention, you have expressed meaningfully.
    Thank you.

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