Why Be Moral? - Sociological, Psychological & Theological Reasoning

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  • 0:00 Why Be Moral?
  • 0:45 Sociology & Morality
  • 2:38 Psychology & Morality
  • 4:24 Theology & Morality
  • 5:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

What makes people act good or bad? This might seem like a simple question, but it has a very complex answer. In this lesson, we'll examine theories of morality based in sociology, psychology, and theology.

Why Be Moral?

Imagine a world where there are no morals or ethics. Instead of complimenting you on your new watch, your best friend just takes it from you. The smallest disagreements are solved through violence. There are no police or courts, and people do whatever they want whenever they want, and never worry about the consequences.

Morality is the system by which we determine what is right or wrong. It guides our behaviors and, in many cases, is a major part of our social fabric. But why are people moral?

To understand morality, let's look closer at theories of why people are moral, including sociological, psychological, and theological theories of morality.

Sociology & Morality

If you think about it, it seems like most people should be moral-free. After all, if I admire your watch, it seems like it would be more satisfying for me to take it and own it than just to tell you that I like it. So, why do people act in a moral way? What stops me from stealing your watch and making it mine?

One way of looking at morality is through the lens of sociology, which is the study of society. Morality is only important when you are in society. After all, if I lived out in the middle of nowhere and didn't have any contact with any other human ever, I likely wouldn't encounter very many moral dilemmas.

But coming in contact with other humans and being part of society forces me to face moral issues on a daily basis. For example, let's say that I am hungry, but I want to save my money to buy a new computer game. I might choose to steal food from a grocery store, so that I can eat and still save my money.

But what impact does that have on others? The grocery store clerk might lose his job for not catching me stealing. The grocery store owner might lose money because I've stolen some of his stock. The food companies might lose money because the grocery store owner might not be able to buy as much food due to the money he lost. And the people who work at the food companies might end up without a job. My decision can impact many people.

Sociological views of morality say that people are moral because their actions impact others in society. When I steal food, and it leads to a chain of events that leads to people losing money and jobs, then my decision is immoral because it causes others to suffer.

Whether people choose to be moral because they understand that their actions impact the rest of society, or whether they are forced to be moral by the rules and pressures that society puts in place to protect its members, sociological morality is focused on the interplay between society and morality.

Psychology & Morality

If people are moral because they are part of society, though, what about the people who are not moral? What makes them different?

Psychology is the study of human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Psychology looks at what people have in common, but it also looks at individual differences in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Psychological views of morality say that people act morally because of the way they think or feel.

Let's go back to my stealing food from a grocery store. I might feel bad about it and, therefore, not do it. But why? What makes me feel bad?

There are two ways to approach this question from a psychological perspective. The first is the social psychology perspective, which is similar to the sociological perspective. It says that I am a part of society, and I gain benefit from society, so I will act according to the rules of society. If I don't, I am likely to be punished, perhaps by losing friends or freedom. The point is, though, that it benefits me to be a good member of society.

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