• Hierarchy of Needs

    Everyone has a breaking point. Everyone can commit atrocities if their basic needs aren't met. A starving man would commit murder for food. A naked man would steal to avoid the cold. Give them plenty and their logical justification to do either would diminish. The likelihood of committing evil deeds diminishes when we improve their standard of living. That's not to say that a man with plenty would not commit evil deeds, only that man can not function in a rational, sane, and safe manner without their needs being met first.

  • Morality is highly subjective.

    The ideas of "right" and "wrong" and the choices we have when weighting virtue against necessity being touted by the other side of this debate are being expressed from relative comfort and safety, and therefore moot. It is easy for anyone not in dire peril to say that it is wrong to steal, wrong to lie, wrong to kill... However a mother who steals food, not to feed herself, but her starving children would surely disagree. To such a person, doing nothing and letting her child die from hunger would be a much more grievous wrong. Families who bravely hid Jewish neighbours or friends in their homes lied to the Nazi officers when asked if they were fostering the enemy. Was risking their lives by telling that lie to save innocent people morally wrong? Or would telling the truth and giving them up be wrong? I doubt anyone reading this honestly thinks giving Jews up to the Nazis or letting children starve to death is ever the RIGHT thing to do, and these are extreme examples which are commonly used to make such points, as they are emotive and describe desperate situations with which people can sympathise with, however they DO help to illustrate the point that morals have grey areas, just like almost everything else in life.

    The problem is when influential groups of people or organisations (I'm looking at YOU, Organised Religion!) start trying to convince us that society's moral code is fixed, inflexible and absolute. That kind of morality is a luxury for those of us who don't go hungry, don't live in fear for our lives or the lives of those we love. No one likes being lied to, or stolen from or having their life threatened and so, as a society, we have come to think of these things in terms of absolutes. The mother thinks it is wrong of her to stand by and let her children suffer and die, just as the shop owner she stole a loaf of bread from thinks it's wrong for people to steal from him.

    Who is right?

    The moral high ground is a mirage, and occupies a different space within each of our minds. As soon as we start thinking that it's wrong to steal "most of the time", we've lost that imaginary high ground and we need to accept that the moral compass is subjective for each of us, and what are clear black and white issues when viewed from our relative safety and comfort, become blurred into shades of grey when that comfort and safety is lost.

  • I you are in Sierra Leone would you not steal food?

    Instead of saying No think if you were Jew in Germany 1940 would you not try to escape by killing soldiers. If someone is forced to commit crime because of situation it is not a crime even killing somebody in self-defence is not counted as crime, and killing somebody is wrong according to Bible but Bible does not stop you from eating vegetarian or non-vegetarian food because you need it live, you need to survive, you need it so you don't become extinct.

  • I'd say... No.

    I understand the arguments supporting this notion, per Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Yin Haiguang's pyramid as well as the line in Guanzi: 'only when the granaries have been filled will the people adhere to the rules of propriety; only when the people are properly clothed and fed will they mind honour and grace.' (Given the quality of the translation - or lack thereof, it's pretty clear that I was the translator...)

    However, I do not agree with it. Proponents of this notion generally assert that when the basic necessities for sustaining life are not met, one cannot be expected to follows the rules of morality. I believe this is a flawed argument. 'The determined scholar and the man of virtue will not seek to live at the expense of injuring their virtue. They will even sacrifice their lives to preserve their virtue complete.' (Analects 15.9) 'I like life, and I also like righteousness. If I cannot keep the two together, I will let life go, and choose righteousness. I like life indeed, but there is that which I like more than life, and therefore, I will not seek to possess it by any improper ways. I dislike death indeed, but there is that which I dislike more than death, and therefore there are occasions when I will not avoid danger.' (Mencius 11.10) From this we can see that a man of virtue puts morality before life, refuting the argument that the want undermines morality.

    To go deeper, it's important to consider human nature. There are two parts The first one is our animal instincts, sometimes known as 'the lesser part of the body' based on a passage from Mencius. The second one is the greater part of the body, our innate nature, which comprises four basic principles: benevolence, righteousness, propriety and wisdom. It is the interplay between these two natures that dictates a person's level of morality.

    A person with a high level of self-cultivation would have a developed his principles of benevolence, righteousness, propriety and wisdom to a sufficient extent such that they override the animal instincts. In a desperate situation, our animal urges can be very great. Perhaps for most people, the animal urges will override the benevolent nature in such a situation. However, a truly virtuous person will be able to maintain morality and restrain animal urges even in times of dire want.

    This is the level of self-cultivation to which all people should strive. If we have not reached it, be will inevitable be blinded by the illusion that morality is a luxury, when ideally, this should not be the case.

  • Due to the large net that the term "morality" casts

    This is an interesting question but I would say this question's scope is too big. Perhaps narrow it down a little, be more specific. Anyway, I would say it's not a luxury. Morality is an available choice for everyone, rich or poor. The EXTENT of morality that can be practised is what matters, because generally, the rich have greater capacity to engage in moral acts without it inflicting much cost (monetary etc) on themselves compared to the poor man on the street.

    It doesn't mean that only when we have decent means to provide for yourself can we stop being animals and embrace our moralistic side. It's easier to of course. But as some have mentioned, many poor people donate even when they don't have much money. Many also engage in good deeds despite their conditions. Morality can also take the form of caring for your children. Many poor people would go to deep lengths of sacrifices to take care of their children and place their needs above themselves. If you want to be strict about this, the very existence of these counter-examples already negate most of the arguments on the "Yes" side. No matter whether these "moral poor" die out or what, it doesn't negate the fact that they chose to embrace the better side of them when they were alive. The various examples of people who succumb to their animal instincts and break the law by stealing etc is just an indication that morality isn't something everyone would choose when poor, but same applies to the rich. The rich steal money too, mind you, just in bigger amounts and having lesser chance of being caught.

    Of course, this whole topic assumes something fundamental which is: we are talking about people who live in a semblance of a community. Living alone on an island - that's an entirely different matter. Without community, morality is highly likely to be lost. Not that there is much choice for the lone survivor to engage in morality here anyway.

  • Morality is a built in part of each of us.

    A man who steals bread because he is hungry knows it is wrong to steal. His need for food outweighs his need to act in a moral manner. Its not that he thinks its ok. His priorities have just changed. Almost everyone has a moral scale and knows what is good or bad. But not everyone has morals as their priority. In some cases benefitial actions take priority such as stealing food to survive. But in some cases personal likes take preferance. These are the dangerous people. The ones who kill for fun. But they still know its wrong.

  • Not every poor person breaks the law

    Desperation can of course make people consider immoral things they would not normally consider. That said morality is not a luxury. Low-income earners tend to donate a higher proportion of their money to charity {and thus doing something arguably moral} than people with higher incomes.

    There are studies that indicate that wealth and all that entails can cause a more selfish existence rather than a more generous one. There is of course white collar crime. There is a lot of evil that happens that is unrelated to wealth and poverty. Serial killers for one.

  • It's easier for a rich man to fit through the eye of a needle........

    'Morals maketh the person' as the saying goes. Although morality has become somewhat unfashionable I think there is a lot of truth in that.

    I think what people dislike about morality is the one upmanship and the Christian idea of morality.

    'I give more money to charity and therefore I am better than you'.
    It's never going to be a popular sentiment.

    Less importance to mority these days. In a job interview the question will never come up. I guess it's less important to display morality these days as it doesn't open doors.

    So its got little to do with being wealthy. In fact quite the opposite. To get on in a career you need to steer well clear of morality.

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