Wed | Feb 26, 2020

Karl Salmon | Is immorality a necessary evil?

Published:Sunday | November 17, 2019 | 12:33 AMKarl Salmon - Contributor

It is argued that there are only two forces in this world: good and evil. We encounter this dichotomy throughout our lives, sometimes going through bad experiences in order to achieve good results.

Parents will administer corporal punishment (viewed in many countries as inhumane) on their children to instil obedience and acceptable behaviour.

A bank will provide financial contributions to charities in need and sponsor sporting events, from the profits it earns from unethical predatory lending practices.

I remember when I was working at a financial institution, my manager would encourage us to divide the total amount owing on a One year loan by 11, then advertise this 11-month payment to the unsuspecting customer as them getting one month payment free.

This same institution provided sponsorship to minor league sporting events.

Is it moral to commit immoral acts in order to achieve a moral result?

The underlying question is: “Do the ends justify the means?”

Essentially, is it good or bad, right or wrong?

Immorality is defined as the quality of not being in accordance with right or good standards of conduct. Behaviours commonly associated with immorality include selfishness, ignorance, neglect, and (harm).

Harm is parenthesised because not every immoral action is perceived to have consequences that will cause eventual harm to someone. Many people argue that, if an act does not harm others then it cannot be immoral.

This is not a convincing premise to some religious sects which believe that homosexuality, although not harmful to anyone, is still deemed an immoral act.

Moral Relativism

While choosing the immoral path may seem a bad choice, it is important to understand that immorality is subjective and relative to one’s perception. The definition of morality is created by individuals or groups according to their own interpretation of ideals, principles, and lifestyle. This is called moral relativism. The moment the word ‘perception’ comes into the picture, these values we maintain are influenced by people, places, and our own experiences.

Religion and Immorality

Different religions have their own perception of immorality.

Christians, like Muslims, agree that immoral behaviour (sin) is defined as any behaviour that goes against the commands of God (Allah).

Most Muslims are of the view that it is necessary to believe in Allah to be a moral person. There is widespread acceptance in the Islam teaching that some behaviours such as drinking alcohol, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, and committing suicide are immoral acts. On the other hand, other religious groups believe that their moral purity should not be defined or judged by these acts.

The Christian’s definition of immorality is broad. Christians believe that: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person”. Mark 7:20-23

What constitutes immorality, therefore, is a set of behaviour that someone or a deity perceive is wrong and has manipulated the same ideals and values into the minds of others.

The difference between good and evil is not absolute but relative. Good and evil depend upon the context and results. While an action or a person may be considered moral in a certain situation, the same action or person may be immoral in another situation.

The problem with moral relativism is that mankind will never agree on what is moral or immoral, and many people will indulge in evil acts and justify them as reasonable within their own twisted argument of logic.

Some Examples

Although stoning is not mentioned in the Koran, the Islamic legal system imposes stoning as a sharia law punishment for certain crimes. Punishing adultery with stoning has varying levels of public support in the Muslim world. This practice is, however, considered an immoral act outside of the Islamic teachings and condemned by human-rights organisations.

In some poor countries, the parents of many families in a state of poverty might sell their daughters into prostitution to make money. They benefit from it because it takes care of the family’s financial needs.

Another example of extreme relativism is where a young boy has his hands and feet amputated by his parents and he is placed in the streets to beg.

The parents justify this horrendous act by reasoning that a disfigured boy presents a more pitiful and sympathetic image, and, therefore, makes a more profitable beggar.

You may be dishonest, corrupted, irresponsible, or have committed murder, but because you are wealthy and you share your wealth among others, you become a moral person of that society.

That is why drug dons are seen as leaders in their community with high moral values.

Argument for Immorality

Ends justifying the means: If the end result is good, then what is the problem?

Immorality is argued as being essential because there is no light without darkness, no right without wrong, and similarly, until we know what it is that we cannot and should not do, we won’t know what it is that is acceptable behaviour.

It is only when we identify, experience, and eliminate evil, that good is able to shine through.

Argument for Morality

Morality makes us a better person.The general agreement of a community is that the purpose of morality is to promote and encourage peace and tranquillity within their society, which are more pleasant and appealing choices over conflict and chaos.

The function of morality is to reduce social tensions, and enable a society to efficiently promote the well-being of its members.

Whether or not you believe immorality is necessary in society, strong, caring moral values are important in life and should be achievable attributes to work towards.

If a person was never taught about the virtues of moral values, then how can he or she decide between good and evil?


Karl Salmon is a former Jamaican foreign service officer now living in Canada. He is an amateur and leisurely writer who seeks to push the boundaries to engage readers on various and sometimes uncomfortable topics.