(Mis?)Interpretations of ‘Moral’ in the real world

Reclaiming the ‘Science’ in Moral Science [an episodic essay]: Part -3

Is it moral to be just? Few would pause to think before strongly affirming that it indeed is moral to be just. But what is ‘just’? In the real world is it not the dominant voices that determine what is just and what is not? While it is not my case that justice is nothing but the interest of the stronger [as Thrasymachus makes out*], it is commonly observed that in every day operations, the majority because of their sheer numbers rule, or the might of authority/ muscle power/ affluence/ some instrument of clout exercises its power to influence societal norms.  Not unoften, therefore, this throws us into a state of dilemna  when called upon to remark on or to address an issue that appears patently unjust [or just] on the face of it, but which we, in our individual capacities, may perceive as being more layered than obvious.

We see manifestations of this disjuncture all around us: in debates over individual liberty vs equality; animal rights vs human rights; costs of conservation; demands of development; definitions of progress, and so on. It is difficult to overturn a law of ‘quotas’ or reservations that denies a poor girl from a progressive community a university seat while accommodating a rich boy from a community exploited for centuries. Equally, there may be laws that prohibit the killing of feral animals even if they are a menace and threaten lives and livelihoods; forests may have to be preserved even at the cost of restricting the rights of forest dwelling communities whose home the forests have been since the beginning of time; roads may have to be laid to reach isolated communities even if it means displacing or demolishing an iconic bridge or a building; children have to be sent to school to imbibe a ‘general’ education even if it means a break with their vanishing culture and even if it means it could be more meaningful, in all senses of the term, for them to be schooled in their milieu rather than in an institution.

In practice, therefore, it appears that to be just is to follow the law or norms of a society, and the scope of morality is limited by its adherence to this notion of justice. Is it the case, therefore, that morality is also a matter of perception, and in particular the perception of a powerful cohort – in whatever manner the power is derived – rather than something that inheres in an act?


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