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Morality is a complex of concepts and philosophical beliefs by which an individual determines whether his or her actions are right or wrong. Oftentimes, these concepts and beliefs are generalized and codified in a culture or group, and thus serve to regulate the behaviour of its members. Conformity to such codification may also be called morality, and the group may depend on widespread conformity to such codes for its continued existence. A "moral" may refer to a particular principle, usually as informal and general summary with respect to a moral principle, as it is applied in a given human situation.

An overview of Morality

Views on morality have varied greatly over time, and from culture to culture. Usually, a morality applies to fields in which the choices made by individuals express an intention relative to other individuals (even non-members of the society). Thus, there exists an academic dispute about whether morality can exist only in the presence of a society (meaning a plurality of few individuals), or also in a hypothetical individual with no relationships with others.

A concept of morality may tend toward any of the possible directions in a given field, and moralities exist that recommend heavy restrictions on behaviours, as well as moralities that recommend totally free self-determination, as well as a variety of intermediate positions.

The efficacy of a morality depends on the social position and political representativeness of the group that espouses it, and on its relationship with the norms of the related society. A morality is put into effect through its influence on the society's general rules and formal codes—especially penal codes and the determination of juridically correct conduct. The fields in which the influence of morality is most commonly appreciated are sex-related matters, financial and professional conduct (with the notable example of deontology), and human relationships in general.

A morality can be derived from many sources. For many individuals, morality is influenced, to large degree, by religion or theology, but other, secular, ethical codes are also followed. Religions typically hold that morality is not a human construct, but is the work of God. For example, in Judeo-Christian religions, one or another version of the Ten Commandments is held to have been issued directly to mankind by God. Moreover, religions often hold that the human conscience, the internal mechanism through which one senses the moral aspect of actions, is infused in mankind by God. Non-religious individuals may justify morality on the basis of that improving the human condition or helping humanity is itself fundamentally 'good': they may aspire to base morality on humanitarian principles of reciprocal behaviour and prevention of suffering or through 'objective' approaches, such as utilitarianism.

For moral relativists, morality is viewed as a system of personal ethical conduct that the individual imposes on himself or herself. With this view, it is more concerned with individual choices, as a personal effect of free will, rather than with dispute resolution or conflict, and does not seem to imply a relationship with other individuals or groups. This subjective self-regulation can also sometimes be derived from religion or theology, but is also often seen as totally personal, unsharable, intuitive, creative and aesthetic (a "moral core").

Changes in morality

Moralities often include rules and regulations that do not have obvious reasons for existing, i.e., no immediate harmful results of transgression are apparent. This is sometimes because the harmful effects of such actions are largely indirect, but real nonetheless. Alternatively, the morality may derives from historical circumstances no longer common or relevant in society. Either way, the need for the particular aspect of morality may be questioned. It is not unusual for widescale changes in views on morality to occur, especially by younger generations in society. At times, this questioning extends to the society in general, even to the extent of liberalising laws which prohibited certain behaviours.

Morality and Darwinism

Some evolutionary psychologists have argued that human morality originated from evolutionary processes. An innate tendency to develop a sense of right and wrong helps an individual to survive and reproduce in a species with complex social interactions. Selected behaviours, seen in abstraction as moral codes, are seen to be common to all human cultures, and reflect, in their development, similarities to natural selection and these aspects of morality can be seen in as the basis of some religious doctrine. From this, some also argue that there may be a simple Darwinian explanation for the existence of religion: that, regardless of the validity of religious beliefs, religion tends to encourage behaviour beneficial to the species, as a code of morality tends to encourage communality, and communality tends to assist survival.

These explanations for the existence of morality do not, however, actually assist in deciding what is right. They do not suggest that an individual's morality should be determined by what is best for the species. An explanation of why humans may have a moral basis does not imply that they should hold these views.

Morality in Juridical Systems

In some juridical systems, the word morality concretely means a requirement for the access to certain charges or careers, or for the obtaining of certain licenses or concessions, and generally consists of the absence of previous records on (e.g.) crimes, bankruptcy, political or commercial irregularities.

In some systems, the lack of morality of the individual can also be a sufficient cause for punishment, or can be an element for the grading of the punishment.

Especially in the systems where modesty (i.e., with reference to sexual crimes) is legally protected or otherwise regulated, the definition of morality as a legal element and in order to determine the cases of infringement, is usually left to the vision and appreciation of the single judge and hardly ever precisely specified. In such cases, it is common to verify an application of the prevalent common morality of the interested community, that consequently becomes enforced by the law for further reference.

The Moral - in Story

A moral is a one sentence remark made at the end of many children's stories that expresses the intended meaning, or the moral message, of the tale. For example, at the end of Aesop's fable about the tortoise and the hare, in which the plodding and determined tortoise wins a race against the much-faster yet debilitatingly arrogant hare, the moral is "slow and steady wins the race." Morals have long been included in children's literature, perhaps because many of the stories written for children have been written for the purpose of teaching and guiding children, as opposed to entertaining them. Many morals are even introduced with the phrase, "The moral of the story is..." to emphasize to the reader what the point of the episode was. Morals have grown increasingly out of fashion in modern storytelling, and are now usually only included for ironic purposes.
See also: 
blue laws, sexual morality, 
moral relativism, moral absolutism, 
moral universalism, moral hazard

Compare: ethics