Morality Today

“The contemporary world has given morality a rough ride. The word itself now evokes all we distrust most: the intrusion of impersonal standards into our private lives, the presence of judgement where judgement does not belong, the substitution of authority for choice. When a politician moralises, we suspect that he or she is searching for an excuse not to pay for something. When a religious leader moralises, we fear the imposition of certainties we no longer share, and we suspect that fundamentalism is not far behind. When a particularly newsworthy crime or social trend provokes ethical debate, it will not be long before voices are heard dismissing the conversation as ‘moral panic’. We have come to share George Bernard Shaw’s conviction that morality is one person’s way of disrupting someone else’s innocent enjoyment, or as H.G. Wells called it, ‘jealousy with a halo’. But this cannot be the whole picture. We do still care, and care passionately, about concerns that are essentially moral. We are disturbed by legal injustice and extreme economic inequality. We are distressed by our destruction of the environment in pursuit of economic growth. We are not indifferent to the suffering of others or to the harm we may be laying in store for future generations. We are as moral as any other generation. Perhaps more so, for television and the Internet have exposed us in the most vivid and immediate ways to sufferings that in a previous age we would hardly have known about, let alone seen. And our greater affluence and technological prowess have given us the resources to address ills – physical and economic – that an earlier generation might have seen as something about which nothing could be done, part of the sad but natural order of things. We are certainly not amoral. We remain sharply aware of the difference between what is and what ought to be.”

Morality, Chapter 22, p. 313