What are moral standards?

We explain what moral standards are, their characteristics and examples. In addition, its relationship with legal norms.

  1. What are moral standards?

Moral norms are those that society uses to decide what seems good, correct or adequate . They can be explicit or not, and are defined by resorting to a cultural tradition and traditional values, not to a code written or established by consensus, as in the case of legal norms.

Moral norms, thus, come from society and are learned by each subject. They are exercised by each individual at full will , being able in many cases to choose not to do so.

This, unlike other types of norms , does not result in any effective sanction, such as remorse or, depending on the norm, the rejection of society. However, in many cases the moral norms coincide with legal norms, being their violation at the same time an immorality and a crime .

The morality of societies is a vast subject to study, and responds to the confluence of numerous historical and cultural factors, such as religion , social development, etc. That is why what is considered moral in some eras and societies may perfectly be immoral in others, and that is why a certain change in the idea of ​​morality is being given from generation to generation.

  1. Characteristics of moral standards

Broadly speaking, moral norms have an ethical and philosophical content , which instead of being the result of consensus, comes from a particular way of understanding and exercising cultural identity.

All societies have some kind of moral norms. It is also possible that the same society presents variations of the moral norm depending on the socioeconomic stratum or the class .

As for its characteristics, moral standards are both:

  • Heteronomous : They are imposed on each individual by the community without consulting him.
  • Autonomous : Its compliance depends on the ethical attitude of each person, leading, more than a specific sanction, the repudiation of others and their own mortification.
  1. Examples of moral standards

Examples of moral norms vary greatly from society to society . For example, in Islamist societies, it is considered an immorality for women to wear loose hair , or to show significant portions of their skin.

On the other hand, in the West this is a daily and ordinary reality. Moreover, it would seem to the immoral Westerners that a woman be severely punished for not covering her hair or her skin with a cloth, as is the custom on the part of the most orthodox Islamic practitioners.

Something similar occurs with pedophilia , a usual practice in classical Greece of antiquity , but that today we not only consider immoral, but we have also chosen to penalize by law, making it a crime.

Similarly, homosexuality was regarded as immoral in many regions of the globe. In fact, in some cases he is even punished by law; but most of the countries of the West, on the other hand, is something more or less accepted.

  1. Moral norms and legal norms

legal moral standards theft
In many cases, as with theft, the moral norm coincides with the legal norm.

There is an important distance between legal norms and social norms. Although both are the result of society’s control over itself, they come from very different instances.

Legal norms are part of the legal scaffolding of a society, that is, of the basic administration of justice and order, as established in the Magna Carta. On the other hand, moral norms are part of the cultural, religious or emotional tradition of society itself.

This means that while legal norms deal with the administration of justice, moral norms deal with what society considers traditionally good, correct or in good taste.

Moral norms are to some extent coercive, since society all watches over compliance, even though it is part of an invisible code in many cases. In others, on the other hand, certain moral positions are reflected in legal regulations, and in that case both perspectives converge .

For example, many civil or urban codes contemplate the crime of immorality or lascivious acts on public roads, punishing those who, for example, have sex on public roads or exhibit themselves naked to others, for example.

  1. Other types of standards

The norms or normative orders can be of many types, according to the authority that issues them or to the vital space that they try to regulate or control. Thus, it is also possible to talk about:

  • Religious norms , emanating fromreligious institutions and of a personal and voluntary nature, regulate the spiritual life of people, through adherence to a code or philosophy considered as a path to salvation or elevation.
  • Legal norms , which arise from a judicial or legal authority, and constitute the body of laws with which a society governs itself, coercively.
  • Social norms , product of the need of coexistence of the individuals of a community , and that come from the mutual agreement and the consensus.

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