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augustlan's avatar

What is necessary for you to consider an action immoral?

Asked by augustlan (47376points) July 10th, 2012

What trait(s) must an action have in order for it to qualify as immoral? Or does it vary from action to action?

Are there any things that are not actions that you consider immoral? Thoughts or ideas, perhaps?

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21 Answers

Bellatrix's avatar

Good question! To be immoral to me I think it has to hurt other people, either purposefully or with no consideration of the consequences. Thoughts and ideas – I don’t think so. I am torn on that however because I think continual thoughts about hurting people or animals could be immoral if a person plans or hopes to act on them.

fremen_warrior's avatar

Morality is relative. An immoral action is something I know my conscience will bug me about even in the least. The question for me, really, is just how immoral an action can you actually “live with”.

zenvelo's avatar

I am close to @Bellatrix‘s viewpoint, and I understand the “immoral thoughts quandary.” Despite what I was taught in second grade Catholic school, I really don’t think thoughts are impure or immoral unless it is planning an immoral action.

Immoral actions are use of power over another without consent or regard for the other, and for one’s own gain or personal pleasure.

Bill1939's avatar

Perhaps morality may be reduced to a single simple principle, who does my feeling, thought or action serve, self or others.

whiteliondreams's avatar

In order for something to be considered immoral (wrong/bad) it would have to be acknowledged first; second, thoughts or ideas that are immoral are only immoral if they are accepted by an acknowledging factor (person or group), otherwise an act or behavior is remotely amoral. In your question for variance, you are asking whether an act or level of the act is immoral based on consequential-teleological theories, which have no support in being functional based on their precepts, which are rule and act values.

Finally, as you asked what qualifies as immoral, is the million dollar question. In order to qualify as being immoral, it would have to have an opposite, which is moral. To explain the immoral qualification would mean that someone has to have an opposing view. This view is the most important factor because the view can be emotional, thoughtful, or evidential; however, in order for it to be evidential or inferred, it would have to have concrete support; an empirical discernment of potential consequences. If it were based on emotion or thoughts it would be as unreliable as a doctor performing surgery based on an idea that someone has cancer.

SuperMouse's avatar

If an act is deliberately hurtful it is immoral. If someone’s motives are Machiavellian and people/animals/the environment are damaged by something that person did, that action is immoral.

I think we are fooling ourselves if we think that people can stop immoral or impure thoughts. Thinking about doing bad things is completely human. Not acting upon those thoughts in a way that hurts people is what makes us moral.

thorninmud's avatar

Here’s the Buddhist take on it, which I find useful:

Take a look at the root motivation of the action. The “three poisons” are the forces seen as being at the root of all harmful actions: greed, anger/hatred, and self-delusion. If they are what is driving an action, then that action is immoral.

Of these, self-delusion is really the most basic. It can be summed up as the conviction that “I” am fundamentally separate from “you”. It is a perverse blindness to unity. An essential precondition for causing intentional harm to another is seeing them as “other” in the first place.

Greed and anger/hatred are actually just particular manifestations of self-delusion, but they’re such common and harmful faces of the self/other paradigm that they merit their own status as “poisons”.

What the “poisons” poison is our sense of compassion. Compassion is a recognition of our underlying unity, and it is our innate guide to acting morally. But when the poisons hijack our minds, they disable our compassion and divert our energies to self-service. That’s when we start acting harmfully.

Coloma's avatar

Anything involving lying, deception and/or manipulation for unsavory gain or exploitation of others. Malice aforethought or not.

josie's avatar

Immoral means that an action is based on irrational conclusions to the extent that it is contrary to the values of the person choosing the action.

Mr_Paradox's avatar

Something that cause harm no matter the ends. I believe that almost no end justifies the means.

Paradox25's avatar

According to some spiritual teachings that I’ve read about, it is the motivations for our actions that we’re accountable for more than anything. This is a very tough one to answer, especially considering that there are many circumstances, and we all have bad thoughts in us, that I’m sure of. Some people also clearly have much tougher obstacles in their lives when compared to others as well, so does the person who never experienced anything as drastic as the person they’re criticizing throw the first stone here?

phaedryx's avatar

@Mr_Paradox out of curiosity, what constitutes “harm”? For example, every time it go out in the sun I’m harming bacteria on my skin.

augustlan's avatar

Thanks for all of your answers. For me, it’s causing intentional harm to sentient beings. Which means that nothing you do to yourself (so long as it doesn’t affect anyone else) is immoral. Would you agree with that?

Unless thoughts become actions, I’d say they are amoral.

josie's avatar

@augustlan Morality is all about what you do to yourself, or maybe all about your actions as they apply to yourself.

The morality based virtue of justice (not to be confused with legal justice) may influence how we make choices in a social context, but social convention/politics is the more common basis for how we treat others.

How you treat “sentient” beings is an open expression of your personal values and there is nothing wrong with being nice to them. Certainly living critters deserve more sensitivity and respect than a lump of coal, but that is not a moral issue.

Irrational thoughts are immoral. Thinking is an act of volition, and is thus subject to moral evaluation, even if it is only you doing the evaluating.

phaedryx's avatar

@augustlan you are a sentient being who can do intentional harm to herself ;)

augustlan's avatar

@phaedryx Ha! Ok, amended to ”other sentient beings.”

Linda_Owl's avatar

Any action that causes harm to any sentient being (animal or human) is immoral. Thoughts may be “amoral” but if putting these thoughts in action brings harm to others it is absolutely immoral.

tinyfaery's avatar

I try not to think in those terms. I can never understand what it’s like to live another’s life, to know what another knows, to feel what another feels. Besides, morality is entirely contextual. To me, the word morality has no definitive meaning.

thorninmud's avatar

@augustlan The moral implications of self-harm…that’s a great question in its own right.

I think that’s an aspect of this larger question: if the “victim” of the harmful action is a willing participant and a competent free agent, is the harmful action still immoral?

If I sell you something that I know will damage your health, knowing that you’re not aware of those dangers, that’s clearly immoral. But if you buy my product knowing full well that it will shorten your life, am I released from any moral engagement? The physical damage is the same either way.

So is immorality just a matter of intentionally violating someone’s freedom of choice? If they choose the harm, can I provide it with a clear conscience? Or should my actions toward you be governed entirely by my concern for your welfare, regardless of your willingness to be harmed?

augustlan's avatar

Excellent question, @thorninmud! You should go ask it. :)

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