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Ethics and morals not synonymous

James Welle | Tuesday, January 23, 2007

This bit was written as a result of, but not a direct response to Eleanore Stong’s letter (“Contraceptive society morally harmful,” Jan. 22). As she states in the article, “God is the creator of humanity, thus God has written the manual for its optimal functioning in the world.”

This is a widely held belief of many Catholics. Something similar was stated in the Catholic political guide that I picked up last semester in my dorm chapel. It seems to me that the argument in its most basic form goes something like, ‘Since the Catholic (or Christian) moral law is best for society, ethical law should be completely in sync.’ So ethics and morals should be synonymous, right?

For all of those nodding their head right now, maybe you should think twice. Contradicting evidence to your basic premise would alter that statement to, ‘Since moral law is not always best for society, ethics should not be synonymous with morals.’

And here’s my anticipated example: Matthew states that we should forgive not seven but 77 times. It is our moral duty to forgive our trespassers, just like those Amish families forgave Charles Roberts. The legal term for ‘forgive’ is ‘exonerate’. Would it be best for society to ethically forgive those who trespass us? Clearly the answer is no. Our judicial system was installed to keep order, among other things. Without ethical implications our country would virtually be in a state of anarchy. So, clearly, moral law is not always best for this country.

My point is that morals cannot and should not ever be used to justify ethics. That’s not to say that they can’t be equivalent in most cases. This is true for me personally. Just let me present for you the origin of my frustration with this issue. I am from southern Georiga, and most of my good friends at home are conservative. When we would discuss the issue of gay marriage, the only justification for their opinion was that it is immoral.

Do you not see the problem with that? If that is your justification, then you have to, in order to have a sound argument, also attest that all moral law should be actual law. Plus, we are not a theocracy; have we forgotten that this country was not founded on the freedom of (and from) religion.

This is not meant be a discussion about the legal issues of gay marriage, and I’m not advocating a side. It’s just a good example. All I ask is that when you formulate you arguments, whatever side you’re on, realize that you can have separate moral and ethics stances.

James Welle


Knott Hall

Jan. 22