Ethics is one of the most popular branch of modern philosophy. It is also known as moral philosophy. Basically, ethics or moral philosophy involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. Therefore, whenever we hear the word ethics or morals, we get a sense that it will discuss about identifying whether someone or something is right or wrong. The question that arises about morality is where does it come from? What really shapes us and tells us that what is wrong and what is right? Many scholars and researchers are trying to find the answer. Professor Jesse Prinz is one of them. Jesse Prinz on his article “Morality is a Culturally Conditioned Response” published on Philosophy Now magazine talked about it. He has an interesting point of view about regarding the connection between emotion and morality, but I do not agree with it. I think it is our culture that shapes our thoughts and emotions. As a student of philosophy, I will discuss that it is culture that shapes our sense of morality today.

Jesse Prinz began his paper talking about moral disagreement. The example he used to describe whether it is okay to live in a society where the amount of money one is born with is the primary determinant of how wealthy one might end up. He stated,

“In pursuing this debate, you assume that you are correct about the issue and that your conversation partner is mistaken. You conversation partner assumes that you are making the blunder. In other words, you both assume that only one of you can be correct. Relativists reject this assumption.”[2]

I strongly agree with it. I believe that assuming one’s stance to be correct or not leads towards the debate of whether it is moral on one’s eye or not. Both of participant has their morals that was build based on the culture he or she is raised. We know that culture is responsible for their view on the topic. They are just occupying their morals on a topic which just happen to be different moral worldview. Therefore, both of the conflicting morals are true. On that sense, the story of Medusa from ancient Greek mythology happen to be the perfect example to explain this.

Whenever we think of Medusa, we imagine a winged human female with a hideous face and living venomous snakes in place of her hair. If anybody looks at her eyes, they will turn into stone. But there is a story behind the transformation of Medusa into a hideous monster which we cannot neglect. Before turning into a monster, Medusa was a beautiful priestess of Athena who was the Greek Goddess of war. Medusa was so beautiful that even Gods along with mortal men desired for her company. All the women were jealous of her. One day she was worshiping on Athena’s temple and she became a victim of rape on that temple. Poseidon, the Greek God of sea, raped her [5]. Though Medusa was a victim of rape, Athena cursed her to become a monster as she was raped on the temple that adulterated and polluted the temple. Athena did not take any step towards Poseidon. As Poseidon is the powerful god of sea, earthquakes, storms and horses, it was okay for him to rape Medusa. As Poseidon is a powerful God, anger and submissive characteristics should be his nature [5].

Now if the discussion of morality on this story is brought about between the inhabitants of that ancient Greek era and 21st century citizens, there will definitely be a big clash. If the citizen tends to be a feminist and the Greek inhabitant is a religious priest, then it is hard to imagine how far this debate about morality can go. Culture is responsible for it. The way we conduct our lives, organize our societies, and deal with others today is very different than the values ancient Greece. Culture configures our point of view and constructs the definition of morality in our heart. For that Greek era it was okay to create discrimination between Gods and mortals and rigid sexism between a male and female. It was their culture and interpretation of morality which is superiority overrules. That’s why, it was not moral to punish Medusa with curse and isolate her from society for rest of her life instead of supporting her.

On the other hand, there is no tolerance of sexual assault today. No matter how powerful anyone is, it is not forgiven. The scandal of President Clinton fits right into it. It is almost like the story of Medusa, but with very opposite outcome.  This political sex scandal of President Bill Clinton with a 25-year-old White House employee, Monica Lewinsky led towards the impeachment of President Clinton in 1988. President Clinton claimed that he never had sexual relations with Lewinsky. President Clinton lied about it and lost his power [1]. Therefore, we can see that how the belief and value we carry in a society, in other words our culture can generate a very opposite outcome for similar plot of incident.


When we talk about morality, we can see that moral variation is important part of it. Besides talking about moral disagreement, Jesse Prinz also talked about moral variation in his article. He not only thinks that it cannot be based on reason or observation, but also says that it can be explained best through assumption of that morality [2]. In other words, trying to fit in the shoes could be a solution. He discusses how moral values are learnt and while discussing it, he brings a new relation of emotion with morality. He states,

“Morality involves specific emotions. Research suggests that the main moral emotions are anger and disgust when an action is performed by another person, and guilt and shame when an action is performed by one’s self.”[2]

It is clear on the article that Jesse Prinz believes that mainly our emotion are responsible for our morality and sadly this is the only part of his article I do not agree with. I think that our culture is the main reason behind the base of our morality as it shapes our values and beliefs that configures our emotions. He talks about a study done by Psychologist Jonathan Haidt where 80% of the American college students said “it’s wrong for two adult siblings to have consensual sex with each other even if they use contraception and no one is harmed” [2]. He tried to imply that it is our emotions that confirm whether such act is morally right or wrong. On that case, I would like say that the popularity of incest porn in United States should get some attention. In 2013, Jon Milward wrote an article “Deep Inside: A Study of 10,000 Porn Stars and Their Careers”, and his analysis threw up some interesting facts and figures. According to his article, out of the twenty, “most common female roles that appear in film titles, ranked by frequency of use, the sixth-most common role for actresses is daughter. The tenth is sister” [3].  It shows the demand and popularity rise of incest porn.

Now, the question that arises is that if morality is based on emotions, then should not incest sex be the new trend for morality as most of the people drowning towards it? Jesse Prinz used Psychologist James Blair’s study on psychopaths to interpret his idea that emotions are necessary for morality [2].  But sexual desire is also an emotional outcome. Sexual desire is also considered the second highest emotional thrive in animals after desire to survive from death. Therefore, categorizing morality as an emotional influence cannot be the solution. Emotions are uncertain, but the idea of morality is rigid. Does it mean that emotions of humans of ancient Greece is different than today’s feminist? Well, someone says ‘yes’, then what he or she might say about the emotion of sexual desire? It did not change. It remained the same, just like in Bill Clinton and God Poseidon. The definition of morality changed because of culture. Culture is the key of society that creates the definition of morals in different parts of the worlds during different periods of time.

Our emotions do not evolve, the culture we are raised in changes. It is very similar to say that the people who follow Islam, it is immoral to marry a non-Muslim [4]. It is against their culture. Also, it is immoral for Muslims to worship in front of a statue or picture. The Muslims of Indonesia worship in front of pictures and statues. It is not immoral for them [4]. They are reserving their culture by practicing their culture. But if you ask a Muslim from Bangladesh, it is a sin. It would not be moral for them. Therefore, it is our culture that determines the definition of morality.  The separate sitting between male and female students is also an interesting example of cultural influence over morality. Some cultures consider it holy and moral, and some cultures consider this as a practice of gender discrimination.

To conclude, it can be stated that morality is culture based rather than emotions. It is also an undeniable fact that moral relativism plays an interesting role when it is about ethics. People often do not agree with relativism because they think it has an unacceptable implication. But I think it is important as it is an important part of the concept morality and moral philosophy. Morality is necessary to run a society. As the culture of society differs, the moral values of societies contradict because culture is the key of society that creates the definition of morals in different parts of the worlds during different periods of time. Culture is the main culprit behind established values in a society.  It is our culture that shapes our thoughts and emotions that shapes the concept of molarity. Therefore, it is culture based on which the sense of morality arises, not emotions.

Share this Post

Leave a Comment