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Is there a clear-cut distinction between something that is "immoral" and something that is "impolite"? After all, aren't both categories about violating a society's norms?

Quick example: in this country, it's impolite to slurp your soup; not so in some other countries. That's just a matter of differing social norms Killing innocent people is immoral; it's immoral regardless of where you are, and not just because we happen to have a social norm against it. Being impolite can also be a moral error, though usually not a big one. It's wrong to upset people for no good reason, and being impolite sometimes has that effect. But it's not just that we have a social custom of not distressing people for no good reason; it's wrong. Two small points. First, the moral claims above could be subject to qualifications; I leave it to you to consider what such qualifications might be. Second, I haven't argued that it's wrong to distress people for no reason, though the fact that no one one likes having it done to them would be part of any such argument. I also haven't argued that killing innocents is just plain wrong, but similar reasons would apply there with even more force. In any...

Which is the more morally detestable action. To discriminate against people due to the color of their skin, or to discriminate against people due to their religious beliefs? On both accounts one discriminates against an involuntary characteristic, race being innate, and religious views being a matter of conviction. In the question, I assume that one cannot choose ones conviction, one cannot be forced to believe in God, not truly. Thus, being convinced of the truth of a certain religion is involuntary. Therein lies my question, if we accept the moral detestability of racism, should we also accept a moral detestability of religious prosecution? And if so, wouldn't morality dictate the refrain from verbal offenses against religious people, on par with those against races?

There are at least two issues here. One is whether race and religious belief are involuntary in the same way. Another is whether it's ever okay to discriminate on the basis of a person's beliefs—religious or otherwise. On the first issue I'm going to simplify by mostly setting aside some important questions about whether there is such a thing as race in any deep sense, and just what race amounts to insofar as there is such a thing. The important point is that in typical cases, there is for most any practical purpose nothing people can do about their race; racial identity is strongly involuntary. That's not so clearly true of matters of conviction. There's nothing at all unusual about people changing their convictions, including their religious convictions. Non-believers become believers; believers become non-believers. This doesn't tell us whether such changes are voluntary, but it's an important difference. Are such changes belief voluntary? That's too simple a way to frame the issue. It's often...

How can I be morally 'good' and make sure I'm not seeking moral dessert? I'm trying to be a good person but it's impossible to do that without deep down inside wanting something out of it. I don't mean that I'm doing good things to get something I want. I don't feel like I deserve something because I did something good. However I don't think anyone can say that they don't do something good without having any selfish thought of wanting something because of it. Even if that thing is wanting to be seen by others as a good person. That's all I want. I am just afraid that what I'm doing doesn't count as good because I want the littlest thing out of it. I'm afraid that I can't become a good person because of this.

You write "I am just afraid that what I'm doing doesn't count as good because I want the littlest thing out of it." That would only be true if actions had to be completely free of mixed motives to count as good. But that's not very plausible. Consider two scenarios. In each of them, you're in a coffee shop. In each of them, the person at the next table gets up to leave, having forgotten to pick up the wallet that you see sitting on the table. In the first scenario, the person is someone you'd like to have an excuse to meet. In the second it's not. Are you the kind of person who wouldn't do the right thing in the second case? If you are, you're right to worry about your moral state. If you are, then you're the sort of person who may do the right thing, but only if there's something in it for you. But I'm betting that in both cases, you'd get the person's attention and point out that s/he left the wallet behind. The fact that in one case, you have an extra reason doesn't show that you wouldn't be...

Is one immoral just by virtue of having immoral thoughts? So for example if Joe really wants to steal from his neighbor, or in his heart he approves of the act of steaing for no reason, but didn't put that into action because he forgot or didn't have the chance. Is joe still "sinning"? He won't be punished for just having such thoughts but I don't see why in this case he is morally any better than an actual thief.

There's a strong case for saying that Joe really isn't any morally better than an actual thief. It's just fluke luck that separates Joe from Moe, who actually stole the neighbor's wallet a little later that day. Among others, you certainly have Kant on your side; Joe lacks what Kant calls a good will, and Kant though that a good will is the only thing that's truly good. As for whether Joe is "sinning" by wanting to steal from his neighbor, having an impulse probably doesn't count as a "sin," though sin is not a notion that has much currency in contemporary ethical theory. Just how one ought to deal with such impulses is an interesting question. The obvious first answer is by resisting the temptation, and that's fine as far as it goes. Giving in to the temptation is wrong, even if lucky circumstance has it that the giving in doesn't end up going anywhere. If we want to use the word "sin," we might want to say that forming the intention to do wrong is already wrong, even if nothing comes of it. But your...

Suppose a friend tells us something that happened with him and asks us to keep it a secret. Suppose it is nothing very important, but our friend thinks it is. Suppose the story could have been known by many people, because it happened in a public place, but in fact no relevant person knows of it, except for our friend and us. Do we have the duty to keep it a secret? It seems that if we have that duty, it is only because our friend asked us to do so. But do people have the power to create duties for other people only by asking them to do something?

Let's consider two scenarios. 1) The friend asks you to promise not to divulge what she's about to tell you. You agree and then she tells you the "secret." 2) The friend tells you her story without any preamble to her tale. Then she asks you to promise not to tell anyone. In the first case, the obligation is a matter of your making a promise. Promises create obligations. You could have said no. Or you could have said "Only if I can keep it secret in good conscience." If you hadn't said "I promise," there wouldn't be an obligation. Your friend didn't create the obligation; you did. In case 2), you can still say no, but leaving things at that misses something. Respecting your friend's wishes could still be what you ought to do, because she's your friend, and not respecting her wish would distress her, and you've got no good reason to do that. In case 2), do we want to say that when your friend asked you not to tell, that created an obligation? Your friend's request isn't like an order from the court....

What is right and what is wrong? Who can say what is right and what is wrong? How can we know what it is? Does it really matter, does it make a difference to know what the right thing and what the wrong thing is? I'm talking about stuff like sexism, racism, money, society etc.

Well, things are wrong if we shouldn't do them; they're right if we should. As for which specific things, there are many. Some people think they can boil it down to a simple principle or two (e.g. things are right if they produce the largest balance of good consequences over bad.) Other people think right and wrong are too varied for anything more than rules of thumb. Who can say what's right and what's wrong? If you mean who's qualified to pass judgment, then pretty much all of us are—at least about some things. It's wrong to mock people's infirmities. It's wrong to beat someone up because you're annoyed by something he said. It's wrong to kill someone so that you can collect on her insurance policy. And so on. You're in just as good a position as I am to make those claims. (Of course if you're asking who can make something right or wrong by declaring it right or wrong, there's a pretty good case that no one can. What's right and wrong isn't up to us.) Does it make a difference to know the...

In a primary school in South Korea, a teacher asked the students to think how happy they are when watching a video of children with famine in Africa. The teacher meant that they must be happier compared to poor children. Then one of the students responded "It's wrong that one feels happy to know other's unhappiness." When I read this article, I deeply agreed with the student. I think most of the NGOs for children in need are using that kind of way to move people and to encourge them to donate. That is, the organizations make people compare themselves to the poor and feel happier and sympathy for the poor. Then they would be willing to donate for the poor. I think this method is effective but wrong. I wonder if those organizations take the wrong method or I am wrong. Could you please let me know your opinion on this issue?

Consider the situation in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. When I think about the people on that island, I don't feel happy; I feel distress. Imagining myself in their situation is painful. That distress is an in-the-moment feeling. If I shift my focus to something else, the feeling abates or disappears. If I turn my attention back to Puerto Rico, the distress returns. That said, I'm also glad that I'm not living in the midst of that devastation. I am glad even in those moments when I feel distressed about the plight of people living on the island. This "gladness" isn't so much an in-the-moment feeling as a recognition that I have something to be thankful for. In fact, it seems odd to say that I'm happy not to be struggling in the way that the people of Puerto Rico are, even though we sometimes talk that way. Insofar as I'd put it that way, it would be another way to say that I'm relieved or thankful. To whatever extent there's a feeling that goes with that gratitude, it sits in a...

Is Privacy a form of lying? To keep something private is to regulate truth, it's deciding who should learn the truth and who shouldn't (whether it be on a personal scale or a larger collective scale such as a political organisation). Usually, things are kept private in order to prevent judgment from outside parties, but is it not right that people should be able to make judgments based on the truth? For instance, why do we usually keep our sexual encounters private? Should we not make judgements based on the real truth either of one's character or organisation as opposed to being kept from the reality by the mitigation of information? what if there were no privacy? what if humans were only ever completely honest about their situations? is privacy an arbitrary social construct? would a world without privacy be chaos? P.S is there any interesting reading on this topic you might recommend?

Here's a first-pass response. Lying is saying something that you know is false in an effort to get someone to believe it. If I don't say anything, and I don't try to mislead you about the facts, then I'm not lying. And so if I keep something private, I'm not lying. In fact, that's a bit too simple. Suppose there's something about me that would come as a big surprise to people who know me. Perhaps it's some unpopular opinion I hold, for example. I've never denied having this opinion, but I've never admitted it either. I just artfully avoid the topic whenever it comes up. I'm keeping my opinion private, but I'm doing it in a way that's meant to preserve the impression people have. It's still not right to say that I'm lying, but it's plausible to say that I'm not being honest. I'm deliberately keeping information from people that would make a difference to them if they knew it. However, it doesn't automatically follow that I'm doing something wrong. Yes: ideally people should make judgments based on the...

Can you have morals without acknowledging God? If so, where do they come from?

You can and many people do. As for where we can get moral beliefs if we don't believe in God, two unoriginal thoughts. The first is that in our actual day-to-day moral reasoning, most of us—even most religious people— don't base their moral responses on their religious beliefs. There are plenty of reasons to be honest or fair or kind or courageous without scurrying off to scripture. Some of the reasons might also show up in scripture: "Treat others as you'd wish to be treated" for example. But do we really think that someone who has internalized the point of that maxim would chuck it aside if they lost their religion? The second thought is a hard one for some people to grasp; I tend to think of it as a test of philosophical aptitude. The fact that some powerful supernatural being commands something isn't by itself a reason to think it's good. The point is very old; it goes back at least to Plato's dialogue Euthyphro . It goes with a pair of questions for the believer: are things right because God...

I was once asked in an interview 'What would you change in the world if you had the power to do so?' I replied that 'if there was no life after death, I would destroy the human race including myself and my family, thus preventing the suffering every human would have undergone if they were alive'. Aside from life after death, at first glance you might think of me as a satanic human being, but I am exactly the contrary, I am a medical student. It would cause temporary suffering but it would also banish endless suffering as well as happy things. My question is that is it ethical and moral to do so?

This strikes me as a particularly easy question. The answer is no. Among other things, you seem to be making two assumptions. The first is that the suffering prevented by destroying everyone outweighs all the the happiness and satisfaction that would also be prevented. That's already pretty unobvious. But in fact, as you've stated your view, you'd even be justified in wiping out people who would get more satisfaction than suffering out of their lives, since I assume that "everyone" means "everyone." I don't see a scintilla of justification for that. The more serious problem is in assuming that because this is how you see things, it would justify wiping everyone out, no matter what their view of the matter might be. That's a pretty extraordinary thing to assume. I'm not about to accuse you of being satanic. But the view you're offering might deserve that label.

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