Why are people morally weak

The magazine - No. 17

Mr. Höffe, we would like to have a crash course from you on “Morals for Non-Philosophers”. What is morality

A foreign word. It comes from the Latin word “mores” and translates as “customs” and “customs”. Morality deals with basic assumptions in the behavior of people towards other people and towards nature and is in no way limited to questions of sexuality. In the so-called critical sense, the term morality describes how something reasonably applies or should apply. The positive term morality, on the other hand, describes which customs an individual or a society follows.

Does morality make life easier?

In many cases, yes. The ancient moral philosopher Plato said in a conversation with his friend Socrates: The righteous - that is, the righteous or, as we say today: the moral person - are far better off than the unjust, because they are respected by those who care about them lies precisely because he can respect himself.

Can you learn morals?

Certainly. And every person. For example, one can learn righteousness or consideration. Aristotle, next to Kant one of the greatest moral philosophers, attaches great importance to the fact that one can and must learn morality.

And how exactly do you learn morals?

By practicing, getting used to. By being praised for what you do right and reprimanded for doing the wrong thing. And maybe you even feel remorse for the wrong ones. Aristotle says: One becomes righteous through righteous action, brave through brave action. That means: You get a moral attitude through practice.

So man is not moral from birth?

Children are moral fairly early on and fairly certain. Then, in puberty, they begin to question certain morals. And as adults, people end up making excuses as to why they don't act morally in the circumstances, but morality is not innate. Morality has something to do with intelligence.

Does stupidity rule out moral action then?

Stupidity is ambiguous. Someone can be absolutely honest and sometimes you will say: That was stupid, how honest he was. But if you mean by stupidity that someone lacks any kind of cognitive ability, so if someone is severely intellectually disabled, then it becomes difficult, of morality to speak.

Does morality have to do with education?

If education means knowing historical data and scientific laws, then not. But if education means finding your way around the world and having criteria for judging a good life, then yes. Education includes the opportunity to change yourself. This is a good prerequisite for acting morally.

Sounds like life experience makes you more moral?

Yes and no. Life experience leads one to believe that there are good reasons to excuse one's immoral behavior. However, life experience can also show that it is not good to live with a guilty conscience and disregard for other people. At the same time, in the course of life, you learn that you - just like everyone else - have weak moments, which is why you become a bit more forgiving, with others and with yourself.

Are you becoming less strict with yourself?

On the one hand less strict, on the other hand even stricter. One does not weaken the demands that one makes of oneself, because morality cannot be weakened. But over time you know that you are fallible and seducible. You should feel ashamed of this, make a fresh attempt and say: I will do better next time.

Who is responsible for morality in a society?

In our democratic society: every responsible citizen. There is no one who has the privilege of being in charge of morality. Of course there are institutions like the church that are often asked about morality because they have a certain competence due to their tradition. Schools and parents are also expected to be responsible for morality. Parents do not have to understand much about morality anyway, they are just as good, bad and fallible as others, but whoever brings people into the world, needy and initially completely insecure beings, is responsible for ensuring that these children gradually do that learn what a person should learn.

And that would be?

To lead one's life independently.

Do you have to talk about morality every few decades because of social developments?

You have to talk about morality all the time. Because something changes all the time, right? I have already mentioned one reason: people keep finding excuses not to act morally. Intelligence is also to blame for this. The basic idea of ​​morality can be formulated in simplified form as a golden rule: What you don't want someone to do to you, don't do it to anyone else. We have found this thought in all cultures for many millennia. You don't need a new morale just because the conditions of use change.

What problem does globalization pose for morality?

First of all, economic questions come to mind. But economic questions have always been asked. It could be, for example, that my neighbor is very poor and I know that. His mother is dying, the children have nothing to wear and do not get a good education. Globalization poses exactly this problem, just on a completely different scale. It sounds quite good to say that in the age of globalization we need a new moral. But as a philosopher I allow myself to say: We need the same old morality in all its severity and recognition.

And what exactly does that look like?

The philosopher finds it easy: he only appeals to general human reason, not to a particular tradition or religion. Today, when one speaks about morality in connection with globalization, one needs values ​​that are recognized by all people of all cultures Culture can imagine that it knows something better than the others and that it has to teach other cultures.

Does poverty allow immoral action?

After the war, a cardinal from Cologne allowed starving people to consume coal, potatoes and water, even if they didn't own it, which is an extreme situation. On the verge of starvation - that is not what we mean by poverty in Western countries today; here, poverty means that someone has considerably less than the average. This having less is not a sufficient argument to allow immoral action. Rather, morality demands that those who are better off take care of those poor.

Can you act morally out of pity?

Without doubt. Compassion is one of the main drivers of moral conduct. Think of the story of the good Samaritan: The Samaritan meets someone who is badly off, plundered by robbers. The Samaritan thinks: This is a person too, I have to help him. He takes him to the nearest inn and gives the landlord money to look after the sick man. It is interesting that he does not interrupt all his business and become a nurse. He got help on the way and that's that
Most important.

What other driving forces are there for moral action?

Charity is certainly one of the strongest. Let me briefly explain something: there are two areas of morality. First, the legal morality. This includes: that you don't steal, that you don't kill anyone, that you assume that all people are equal. And that you approach the other with an open mind. The second area of ​​morality goes beyond what is owed. It is called virtue morality or meritorious morality. Compassion is part of meritorious morality. The difference becomes clear when one thinks about the consequences of a violation: If someone violates meritorious morals, one is disappointed; if someone violates legal morals, one is outraged.

Am I acting morally if I only pursue my own interests?

Morality demands not to pursue one's interests by all means, or to ruthlessly assert one's own interests. Everyone can try to make a career or get rich, but not by immoral means. Only that is what morals say first. But if you take a closer look, it is of course a little more difficult: Plato and Aristotle called the happy life the goal of human activity, by which they mean a successful life, which includes, for example, generosity or prudence. Or moral courage. And above all, justice.

Are individuality and morality mutually exclusive?

Not at all. Empirical studies show that many people who place a high value on peculiarities and individuality are particularly moral and helpful. A good example are founders of cultural and social foundations. Perhaps they live by the saying: “Whoever dies rich, dies dishonorably.” In any case, they have often made a lot of money by pursuing their own goals, but then donate it to the common good.

Is Morality Tolerant?

Tolerance is one of the most important demands of morality. On the one hand. On the other hand, if morality is required as morality and says, for example: You mustn't kill and still be killed, then it mustn't be tolerant. American President George W. Bush sees himself on the good side and thinks against evil to have to fight. He emphasizes acting morally. Politicians like to use the words morality and justice because they are words in whose names one can incite passions and obtain approval. Politicians should beware of the danger of self-righteousness. America was founded because of religious freedom and in the name of the Enlightenment ruling at the time. This required a well-trained legal awareness. One should not fall back below the level from then.

If you appeal to morality and fail to act, just so as not to act immorally - can you make yourself comfortable and still be moral?

Morality and comfort in the sense of a glass of red wine and a good television program do not go together. Do's and don'ts belong to morality. Looking away, for example, is immoral and does not exonerate you, but you don't have to intervene if you are watching an old lady of a dozen young people
being beaten up because it could be that you yourself will be beaten up - even if you have to reckon that the lady will not be helped. It makes more sense to think about it and get appropriate help if necessary. Wherever a high degree of righteousness rightly gives you a morally good conscience, the saying goes: A good conscience is a gentle pillow. But for this purpose you have to work a lot on yourself.

Are you without morals if you think immorally?

We can all be seduced, so it cannot be ruled out that we might get the wrong idea. But anyone who diligently cherishes and cultivates immoral thoughts begins to become immoral. But those who just think angrily: "I want him on Kill loved ones, I feel that I have been treated unfairly, ”he is still miles away from actual immoral behavior. So morality helps on the way to a happy and good life.

Which question about the real life cannot be answered by morality?

As a philosopher I can talk about concepts and principles. What does a right or a good life mean? What does meaning of life mean? Also: What are the principles according to which one leads a good or meaningful life? For an individual life, however, each person has to decide for himself - and lead it himself. Talking to good friends can help you find the right life - a philosopher cannot make the decision for one or the other for you.

What will prove to be moral in decades that is still perceived as immoral today?

I can only express my hope that, especially in ancient oriental cultures, equality between men and women will be introduced, as well as tolerance towards other cultures and the recognition of people who think differently - even if you think their way of life does not make you as happy as your own .

Does moral action make you happy?

It depends on how we understand happiness. Morals do not make you richer or healthier. It may sometimes create recognition from others, but it doesn't have to be. As a rule, it ensures self-recognition. In this respect, morality is necessary for a happy life - but only almost. Because there are also villains and villains who are happy.

Is that the same quality of happiness?

If one understands happiness not only to mean feeling good, but also respect from others, one can say: the villain does not achieve this quality of happiness. But maybe that doesn't bother him.

Otfried Höffe, 62, is professor of philosophy at the University of Tübingen. For further reading he recommends his books Lexicon of Ethics and Reader on Ethics.