Examples of moral values include faithfulness in marriage, patriotism, respect for one's parents, love for neighbors, and tolerance of different beliefs. However, moral values are not universal. They vary from person to person and over time.
Ethics vs. Morality
Although most people agree on the general definition of moral values, even that can be hard to pin down. The Encyclopedia Britannica argues that morality and ethics mean the same thing when used by philosophers and other academics. However, it notes that some people think morality is a sense of right or wrong on the personal level while ethics are right and wrong at the societal level. On top of that, other people think that while moral values are our sense of wrong, ethics are our morals in action. In other words, ethics are the actions we take and systems we make to act according to our morals. What is clear is that moral values are deeply held personal beliefs, and they help us know how to act with other people in the world.
Morals Over Time
Moral values aren't constant. Being faithful to one's spouse may seem like a universal value today in the United States, but in ancient times, it may not have been, which is why it was so important to include that value in the Ten Commandments. There's also evidence that morals sometimes change for not particularly moral reasons. One study found that when given a chance to receive a monetary reward, people often adjusted their morals to justify taking the money.
Some morals may be consistent in some form across times and cultures. These might include:
- Loving your family
- Returning favors
- Showing courage
- Obeying local authorities
- Being fair
- Respecting the belongings of others
- Helping one's personal group
However, other people argue that even these values are not necessarily universal.
Morals in Politics
Morality can be particularly important in politics. While moral values inform a person's stance on important issues and policies, they also affect politics in less obvious ways. When moral values enter politics, it can often lead to people distrusting those who don't share those values, which ironically can lead to people acting less moral to people outside their group.
"When we stop at the level of values," argues Chris Cuomo, a professor at the University of Cincinnati, "we don't go to the higher moral ground where we ask what it means to respect people's rights in a society with different values and religious views. This is the foundation of democracy."
Morals in the US
Although some morals are changing in the U.S., others continue to show the same level of support. Gay marriage, for instance, has become more and more accepted over the years. While some people in the past considered gay marriage to be immoral, there is evidence that many people now value tolerance and respect for loving relationships instead. At the same time, other values, such as the belief that adultery is wrong, show no sign of changing.
Amorality vs. Immorality
Discussions about moral values often lead to talk about amorality and immorality. While these words sound similar, there are important differences. Amorality is having no morals — having no sense of morality, and therefore not knowing what is right or wrong. Immorality is knowing what is right and wrong but acting wrongly anyway.