To what extent do you feel that human beings need rules in order to be moral, and to what extent do you feel they should be free to adapt their behavior to different situations?  Can you include...

To what extent do you feel that human beings need rules in order to be moral, and to what extent do you feel they should be free to adapt their behavior to different situations?  Can you include an example or illustration to help me completely understand your thoughts?

Asked on by lcowan6

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I would argue that human beings do need rules (which can come from a variety of sources) to govern their behaviors.  By adhering to these rules, human beings can act in ways that are morally acceptable.  However, these rules cannot be excessively specific and strict.  Instead, they need to be more of general guidelines that can be adapted to fit the wide variety of circumstances that human beings can find themselves in.

To think about how this is so, let us think about the idea of sexual morality within a marriage.  When two people get married, they are generally promising that they will be sexually exclusive within that marriage.  This could be a rule by which they should live.  The rule would be that no person who is married should engage in sexual activity with anyone other than their spouse.  By following this rule, the spouses would be acting in a moral way.

But this rule might be too strict and inflexible to cover all of the situations that might arise in a marriage.  Let us say, for example, that one of the partners in the marriage were to completely lose his or her ability and desire to engage in sexual activity.  Let us imagine that this were to happen while the partners were still relatively young.  Would it be right to expect the other partner to completely forego sex for the rest of their life?  This is much more of a gray area.  In such a situation, it might be necessary for the couple to be free to adapt their behavior.  It might be better for their marriage if the spouse who still wanted to be sexually active were able to engage in sexual activity with someone else.  This might be a better solution for that couple than forcing one partner to remain involuntarily celibate and forcing the other partner to feel guilty about depriving their partner of a sexual outlet.  If the couple were able to adapt their behavior to their situation (rather than being bound by a hard-and-fast rule about fidelity), their marriage might be more likely to survive.  This would be a better outcome for them if we assume that they still love one another.

So, I would say that it is necessary to have rules.  If we have no rules whatsoever, there are no brakes on human behavior and chaos ensues.  However, if our rules are excessively inflexible, we can deny people the ability to adapt to situations that are not really consistent with those rules. 

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