Inconsistency of Using “Moral Gravity” to Specify Degrees of Morality

In intelligent usage, “moral” and “immoral” do not admit of gradations. Acts are immoral or not.

When people jokingly profess that everything, they like is illegal, fattening or immoral, they do not really mean “immoral.” They do not think that their little vices are really immoral practices. They mean that what they are referring to as immoral has been erroneously thought to be immoral.

For people who speak carefully about morality, calling an an act already labeled “immoral” seriously immoral is a confusing redundancy. It is like saying the act is seriously a serious matter. I do not want to revise this feature of moral thought because it rests upon a fundamental feature of moral thought. This fundamental feature can be called the “over riding “ or “dominating” feature of morality. If an act A is obligatory, it ought to be done regardless of the consequences of doing A. If an act A is forbidden A ought not be done regardless of the consequences of refraining from A.

People who hold a consequentialist theory of morality accept the dominance of morality. Consequentialists accept that if act A has the best overall consequences, then A is to be done regardless of the consequences of not doing alternatives to A.

To appreciate the overriding implications of the concept of immoral, imagine someone saying, “I know it is immoral but what are the other reasons for not doing it?” We can rightly suspect that person of not understanding what is implied by admitting that an act is immoral. Admitting that an act is immoral is admitting that there is a sufficient reason for not doing it. Imagine further you ask, “What else do you want to know about doing it?” He replies, “I want to know how refraining from this act promotes my happiness.” Now, our proper response is, “If promoting your happiness is a standard you use in deciding on morality, you made a conceptual mistake in not considering promotion of your happiness before admitting that the act was immoral.”

So, it is inconsistent to talk of degrees of morality. Hence, if “moral gravity” is to be used consistently, it should not be used to speak of degrees of being immoral.

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Inconsistency of Using “Moral Gravity” to Specify Degrees of Morality

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