Framework Model for Morality and Ethics

I am proposing a model or framework for how to consider the factors that come together to influence specific conceptions of morality, ethics, and other forms of codes of conduct.

My intention is not to propose some ideal form of morality or ethics, but to compose a rough, loose framework that facilitates conceptualization and discussion of the factors that are driving us towards our moral and ethical theories.

The framework is agnostic with respect to the specific content of any moral or ethical theory. As such, it should apply to all moral and ethical theories.

My source for this model framework is simply my own personal observations over the course of my life. The intent is not to offer this model as either my own personal model or as a one-size-fits-all model for all individuals and groups, but the intent is to offer a flexible model that can be adapted to most people and groups.

The model consists of a number of levels, with the initial levels being more personal and the latter levels being more impersonal and more general.

The intent is to get the levels in a reasonable accurate hierarchy, but there may indeed be errors and matters of dispute as to the precise levels and their precise ordering. Even then, I recognize that various levels may be skipped, reordered, or additional levels added for specific individuals or groups.

There is no intended implication that each level builds on or follows from the preceding or succeeding level, but from a practical perspective that may indeed frequently be the case.

A key intention of the model is to make it easier to point out and discuss the border or gray zone between conduct that is merely practical in nature or legally mandated, as opposed to conduct that is controlled by more high-minded morality.

Levels of factors influencing moral and ethical conduct

The proposed levels are:

  1. Genetic and biological influences. Includes drives. Genetic content vs. genetic expression as well.
  2. Family influences. Parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents. Not a conscious decision by the child.
  3. Childhood religious influences. Not a conscious decision by the child.
  4. Childhood school influences. Not a conscious decision by the child.
  5. Neighborhood and community influences. Not a conscious decision by the child.
  6. General cultural influences. Books, movies, entertainment that convey value-like content that may guide behavior, but not labeled moral per se.
  7. Implicit personal bias. Not typically conscious, but influences thought, decisions, and actions.
  8. Personal preferences, patterns, habits, intentions. Nothing terribly high-minded.
  9. Personal rules for practical matters. A bit more structure and intentional, but still not high-minded.
  10. Civic duties. Stuff you are supposed to or must do, by law, tradition, or custom. Includes obedience to law and respect for authority.
  11. Professional ethical rules (doctors, lawyers, accountants, government officials.) Practical, not high-minded per se.
  12. Social tradition. Not formal legal requirements, but not moral per se. Stuff we are supposed to do to be good citizens.
  13. Personal principles. Still not high-minded per se, but getting there. Still more of a rough guide rather than MUST/NOT/SHOULD.
  14. Professional ethical principles. The high-minded stuff, beyond the mundane, practical rules.
  15. Personal morality. Now we’re talking high-minded — lines in the sand, red lines, what we feel we MUST do, must NOT do, etc. Very subjective.
  16. Preferred external morality. What moral theory, if any, you personally subscribe to, that serves as your guide in the absence of any subjective, personal morality or principles.
  17. High social tradition. Unwritten code of behavior. Not strictly an absolute obligation per se, but strongly encouraged. Gray area between practical and high-minded moral matters, responsibilities and obligations may feel like they have the weight of moral obligations. Some may feel they are moral, while others may not.
  18. Perceived external morality of society as a whole. Morality imposed by society that you feel obligated to adhere to regardless of your personal morality and principles. Less about practical issues. Cuts to the core of the foundations of society and values across all strata of society. The vast majority of citizens consider these matters as moral matters.
  19. Social groups. Individuals join social groups seeking others who share their beliefs and values, but also adopt beliefs and ethical and moral codes of groups that they may join for more personal, practical, and social reasons other than morality and ethics per se.
  20. Political parties and political groups. Individuals join political parties and groups seeking others who share their beliefs and values, but also adopt beliefs and ethical and moral codes of political parties and groups that they may join for more personal, practical, and social reasons other than morality and ethics per se.
  21. Religious or spiritual morality. Moral code, if any, that you feel an absolute obligation towards, above even the law or society as a whole.
  22. Ultimate (mythical?) objective morality. If there is such a thing. More of a hypothetical concept than necessarily a reality. This is what religions are attempting to channel or interpret as their claim of an objective morality. This is also what individuals are imagining that they are reaching for with their own personal morality.

Line between practical and moral matters

Exactly where to draw the line between purely practical matters and matters controlled or guided by high-minded morality may be a matter of dispute, but personally I would draw the line at personal morality. All levels below that are focused on practical considerations. Above that, high-minded morality takes over.

In particular, civic duties, such as obeying laws, voting, recycling, and jury duty are practical matters rather than moral matters.

My model considers law as a codification of conduct, but focused primarily on practical considerations rather than high-minded considerations.

Others may disagree, in any number of ways.

Some may consider all conduct to be a moral matter.

Some may consider the law and civic duties as moral matters as well.

In any case, at least this framework model provides a vehicle for discussion, a set of reference points.

Morality vs. ethics?

There is no significant clarity as to the distinction between morality and ethics. Technically, philosophically, moral theory and ethical theory are synonyms.

This framework model doesn’t take a hard-line position on a distinction, but I do personally use the rough guideline that from a practical perspective ethics tends to be commonly used in the more professional sense while morality tends to be used in the more spiritual/religious sense.

In any case, the framework model would remain intact even as one might reassign the labels of moral vs. ethical to the various levels.

High-minded vs. merely practical

The model tries to make a distinction between high-minded principles and more mundane practical considerations.

The implication being that the common usage of morality is more in the vein of high-minded principles rather than mundane practical considerations.