What Makes Up Morality?


While the dictionary defines morality as “the extent to which an action is right or wrong,” it leaves something to be desired when asking what, exactly, constitutes morality.

Most of us would say the reasons behind our day to day decisions are made to uphold morality. Although, if there aren’t many who go around acting in hopes of being immoral, why do we see so many atrocities happening around the world today? Part of the reason is that right and wrong are subjective terms, which means morality is comprised of deeper concepts. Can a sinful deed, done for a moral purpose, be morally justified? Likewise, when doing an honorable action to reach an immoral end, is the action still considered moral? Answers to these questions often lie in emotional reasoning, which explains how many of us come to different conclusions regarding similar scenarios. When emotion is given precedence over logic, oftentimes it can lead to harmful decision making.

To see an example of how emotion plays into morality, let’s look at the film John Q.

In the movie, John, played by Denzel Washington, is blindsided when his son becomes ill and is told he needs a heart transplant to survive. Although the movie portrays John as a man of moral principle, he decides to hold an emergency room hostage at gunpoint after realizing the system will not save his son. In the end, he gets the heart transplant for his son without physically harming anyone, and is praised by the people he took hostage. Part of the reason for the film’s success was due to it exposing the contrast between the love a parent has for a child and the reluctance people have to break from morality. It implicitly reinforces the notion that immoral actions can become moral based on the reasoning behind them. The film confounds one defining key feature; whether you agree or not depends on how you view morality.

While its characteristics may be subject to interpretation, many overlook one of the tangible requirements of morality: The respect for private property. In the example above, we can say without doubt that the moment the morality of John’s actions come into question was when he forcefully encroached on others’ private property. A society without regard for property, will have no quantifiable line for morality, and therefore, end up with neither.

To help demonstrate this imperative relationship, let’s examine the effects of separating morality from respect for property. Undoubtedly, we often see unconscionable actions that are distorted into appearing moral, using vague or elusive underlying reasoning to confiscate property. An armed robber needs only to say he plans to use the money for the local food bank to become morally justified. A historically evident example would be any dictatorial regime taking private businesses to ensure the contentment of its citizens. As we already know, this disregard for property does not result in any “moral” outcomes.

Unfortunately, we can see the United States headed down this path of disconnect, too. For those who don’t believe it, you can prove this through an experiment.

Simply tell the government you wish to keep your property by not paying taxes. You can tell them it is immoral for you to fund innocent deaths, whether it be from our military abroad, or through Planned Parenthood abortions domestically; it makes no difference. Men with guns will be at your door to retrieve what is deemed your “fair share.” When this occurs, we must ask, who is really upholding morality; the person defending their own property, or the state violating property for the good of others? Those with clear rationality would say the individual, because they can see where the greater good leads. If you need clarification, ask yourself this: Should every person be able to do what John Q did – pick up a gun and force others to their will – if they believe they have moral intentions? If the state is upholding morality at the expense of property rights, surely the individual could as well. This is unquestionably false, which brings us to the logical conclusion.

For a society to perpetuate morality, it is required to uphold the sanctity of private property, even when it acts against the greater good. To illustrate this point, we can look to Robin Hood. The state deemed his actions immoral when he took back ill-gotten tax money from the King’s collectors, and returned it to their legitimate owners. The morality of his actions, however, were upheld due to the recognition that morality required the preservation of private property.

The United States’ Founding Fathers made this correlation when writing the Constitution, taking into consideration Thomas Aquinas’ “double effect.” While a bad effect may be permissible, an immoral means is never. As it goes, if there is any other way of attaining the result without the bad effect, it is morally responsible to go that route. This helps us assess how America has drifted so far from its origins. Could it be that the state is no longer interested in what is moral? This would surely vindicate the immorality we see around the world.

We need to keep this in mind when we attempt to gain funding for things we deem “moral” through the extrapolation of others’ private property. It wouldn’t matter if what you advocate for is funding to cure cancer, if the means require the violation of private property, the ends will certainly lead to immorality. It’s why we see such rampant corruption and fraud within our governmental system today. A never-ending quest to gain moral ends through an ever-growing means of immoral appropriation. Can you really say you’re fighting for moral ends, when promoting immoral action?

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Thomas J. Eckert

Thomas J. Eckert is the Managing Editor of Think Liberty and Copy Editor for Being Libertarian. With a passion for politics, he studies economics and history and writes in his spare time on political and economic current events. He is a self-described voluntarist.


  1. You wrote this article, very nicely might I just add, as if right and wrong is particularly stoic in origin – the film example you gave argued morals very stoically. You made great points on if morals were stoic, the entire emotional power and reason arguments being a strong point. However I pose you a question – that may reshape your answer, what if morals were hedonistic or nihilist? Wouldn’t that change everything?

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