Finding A Morality Definition That Works For You

Updated May 22, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

No matter who you talk to, it seems that everyone has a different version of morality that helps guide them through life. While different definitions of morality may have some things in common, they often vary in the way they view certain behaviors, desires, and emotions. Because it can be such a subjective phenomenon, morality is something that may be best understood through your own experiences. Learning how to define right and wrong for yourself may help you make decisions, form bonds with others, and pursue goals that make sense for your needs. 

What Is Morality?

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In general, morality can be thought of as the codes of conduct that an individual accepts as a guide for their behavior. The pieces of a person’s moral code may come from the society around them, religious groups, family, personal experiences, and more. One type of morality is objective morality. It believes in the existence of right and wrong regardless of who you are and what your opinions are. The opposite of this is subjective morality, stating that morals can vary from person to person.

Still, it’s challenging to produce a single definition of morality that can apply to all people and contexts, especially because it is subjective by nature. Exactly what morality means and what it should look like has long been a debate for philosophers, religious thinkers, and others throughout history. 

Despite disagreement over what morality should mean and how it should impact our lives, there are some principles that seem to be embedded into a wide range of moral guidelines. Things like honesty, kindness, and selflessness, among other examples, may have a place in our moral codes because they can help us connect with others. In other words, some parts of morality may serve a very practical purpose: morality may be the thing that motivates us to consider the needs of others or the consequences of our actions, which can be a critical skill for social species like our own. 

Understanding theories about morality may help you find a version of it that makes sense to you, which can be a key part of discovering who you are. It may also help you feel more empowered to make decisions that feel right to you, stand up for others, and learn to find your place in the communities you’re a part of.

Different Views On Morality

How we think about morality oftentimes stems from significant questions about ourselves and the world around us. Before we begin to distinguish the individual facets of our morality, such as what we view as right and wrong, it can help to get a feel for the “why” behind these thoughts. Below are a few examples of theories that can help demonstrate the significance of the underlying foundation of our moral codes. 

Descriptive Vs. Normative

Philosophers and moral theorists have two main schools of thought that can help us understand morality: descriptive ethics and normative ethics.

The former discusses morality through the lens of specific cultural or societal values that can shape people’s beliefs about what is right and wrong. Instead of considering what the true or correct version of moral behavior is, normative ethics seek to understand what people think is moral. From there, it may be possible to determine what the “best” way to live life is – in a way that fits in with the expectations and needs of others.

Another way of thinking about morality is through normative ethics, which focuses on making specific recommendations for how people should act to be considered moral. This type of thinking may consider different moral principles and analyze their impacts on society, the individual, etc. to determine which behaviors should take precedence. Of course, either version of moral philosophy may still rely on personal interpretations and conclusions. Basing your thoughts on which outcomes are the best for humanity can still depend on what your personal definition of “best” is.

Absolute Morality

If you are a moral absolutist, then your moral standards are likely fixed and inflexible. You may operate by a set of laws or principles which cannot be altered to fit the situation. This sort of moral philosophy views moral behavior as something objective and inherent, not something that’s subject to individual thought or change.


Because it tends to locate morality outside of the control of humans, absolute morality is often prevalent in religious texts and schools of thought. In this case, the definition of morality may not be tied to humanity at all – instead, it may stem from divine guidelines or inspiration.

Though religion may often make use of absolute morality, it’s not the only reason that a person might subscribe to this type of philosophy. A clearly defined and unchanging moral code can offer a framework for decision-making that transcends emotional changes or the opinions of others. 

Universal Morality

This view is similar to absolute morality but less extreme. Many moral universalists believe that all humans share a set of morals that transcend cultural or societal groups. This set of morals can include basic tenets of social behavior, like honesty and resistance to harming others. According to universal morality, rather than having an ethical code imposed on us by law or religion, our morals exist as part of our human nature; we have an innate moral system that can be discovered through reasoning.

If you are a moral universalist, you might say that performing "random acts of kindness" or "paying it forward" is part of our moral obligation as humans.

Like moral absolutism, universal morality may offer the advantage of creating a clear code of ethics that can stay afloat in various individual contexts or situations. It is also not as rigid as moral absolutism, offering the opportunity to consider the emotions or individual situation of others.

However, there are some potential drawbacks to this view. It can be difficult to view human nature as the authority on moral behavior when each person's “human nature” can look quite different. What is “natural” can be subjective, especially because things like differences in background, culture, and personal experiences can shape our understanding of the world. 

Relative Morality

This type of moral philosophy suggests that there is no absolute or universal moral code of ethics. Instead, our definition of morality is solely based on personal circumstances such as culture, community, and upbringing.

According to a moral relativist, a particular action is only “wrong” if it explicitly violates the religious or social code of ethics of the group you identify with. That means the basis of moral behavior can be as individual as you, and it can be subject to change or growth as you navigate different communities throughout life. 

The greatest benefit of moral relativity, then, may be its flexibility. A relativist code of ethics can allow you to preserve the things that feel right and still keep your morality intact because it can be so easily adapted to situations.

But a potential drawback to moral relativity can be its lack of clarity on specific issues. At its most extreme, relativism may risk dissolving all notion of morality completely by suggesting that there is no such thing as a “right” or a “wrong” that applies to everyone. For instance, are members of a group that views violence as a necessary means to achieve its goals acting morally by harming others? At what point does relative morality end? 

Questions like these can be challenging to answer, but they are often an important part of discovering what morality means to you. 

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo
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What Else Shapes Our View Of Morality?

In addition to the basis of our moral codes, there are environmental and social influences that can shift the way we see right and wrong. It turns out that our community has a huge role in defining our concept of morality. To illustrate this observation, many scientists have conducted research that demonstrates how conformity can lead us to behave in ways that seem to conflict with our personal morality. 

Soldiers during World War II, for instance, became more comfortable committing acts of violence as a result of conformity with their "band of brothers," or other soldiers. This research has been used to explain how massive collusion can lead to significant and devastating changes in moral behavior, including imposing significant amounts of harm and even death onto others. 

This is all to say that the people who surround us can be just as influential over our sense of morality as we are. Because morality can be thought of as an adaptation meant to facilitate social connection and community, it makes sense that it might adapt to fit our surroundings. But that also means that discovering what morality means to you may include questioning the assumptions and conclusions you’ve made as a result of your background and relationships with others. 

Finding Your Definition Of Morality Definitions

When it comes to moral philosophy, there likely is no single “best” answer or line of thought. Instead, the way you define morality can be shaped to fit what feels right to you. Likewise, learning to think about morality through a definition that is reassuring and helps you feel confident can make navigating life with confidence much easier.

Sometimes, though, it’s not easy to ask ourselves questions about morality without some level of guidance. This may be especially true if you’ve experienced things in life that have made you question your moral code or that of others. 

Resources like online therapy may help you find a safe space to explore your own morality and process the things that might impact it, no matter how big or small. Because you can connect with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your own home, online therapy can make it simple to receive support. 

Pursuing online therapy can make a real difference, too. In fact, one study focused on digital cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) found it could be an equally or perhaps more effective method for treating mental health symptoms, particularly those tied to depression. The same study also found that online therapy was more cost-effective for clients than traditional options.


Finding a version of morality that helps you understand your own behavior and that of others can be a challenging process, it it’s likely one that’s well-worth pursuing. Feeling in touch with your moral code may help you make decisions, develop relationships, and pursue goals that help you feel fulfilled and content in life.

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