Morality consists in the right behavior in dealings with other human beings. There cannot be absolute determinants of what is the right behavior. For instance, taking the life of another person is a crime; killing an enemy in war is a brave and honorable deed. In both the cases a human life is lost, but the man involved in taking the life is viewed very differently by the society.

The law and the custom of the society inflict death sentence or life imprisonment on the one killer and honor the other with an award. The soldier kills the enemy in war to defend his country and wins the approbation of his countrymen. Moreover, he has no personal score to settle with the soldier of the enemy country. It is evident, therefore, that no act in itself can be called good or bad.

It is the intention behind the act or the value system of the society, which determines the goodness or badness of an act. Morality of an act is determined with reference to the society as also with reference to the motive of the actor.

Society prescribes general standards of conduct in important life situations, not specific conduct in the myriad situations a man deals with in his life. Man has, therefore, to depend on some readily available yardsticks to determine whether his response to a situation is the right one or not.


Most people would take a course of action, which promotes their self-interest without antagonizing the others, involved in the situation. Nobody would take it amiss if a man serves his interest without impinging on other people’s shoes or harming others. But how is one to determine one’s course of action when a situation involves a conflict of interest between various parties. Is it reasonable to expect a man to forgo his self-interest and allow the other party to take the advantage?

Most people will continue to be guided by self-interest in the course of their life. Morality is conventionally linked with religion. Most religions have some Commandments or some prescriptions for conduct in the form of Do’s and Dont’s. These religious prescriptions are backed by fear of punishment in this life or the life after death.

Thus the nightmares of torture in hell are impressed upon the individuals if they steal or blaspheme. Threat of punishment is also used to force people to do their duties. This type of morality, which speaks of rewards and punishment only, promotes the self-interest of the individual as his action is guided by the desire to avoid punishment or to seek approval for his behavior from the society. When he finds it hard to fulfil many of his desires openly for fear of antagonizing the society, he indulges in satisfying his desires away from the prying eyes of the society.

A very large proportion of people freely violate the law or prescriptions of Morality if they are quite sure that their infractions of the social codes are not going to be detected.


The prescription of right and wrong are internalized by an individual, which become his conscience. But anything done by a person under duress applied either by other human beings or his own guilty conscience can not be described either good or bad on moral grounds. Only those acts can be said to be good or bad which a person freely does of his own volition.

Normally, every living organism is engaged in self-preservation. Human beings are also endowed with this basic instinct for self-preservation; it lends predictability to human behavior.

Most cooperative activities are made possible only if they serve interest of each and every individual involved. Modern marketing strategies accept this basic fact that nobody would buy a thing unless it serves his self-interest. No idea of morality is attached to an act of self-interest. We however call an act moral if one foregoes one’s interest for the sake of another.

One is motivated to sacrifice his own interest for another only when he identifies with that other person. That is to say he feels compassionate toward the other human being. Not only a man of compassion works for another; very often he puts himself to considerable hardship to promote the interest of the other. This sort of compassion alone is the true basis of morality.


Why does a person get motivated to consider another person’s well being as more important than his own interest? He is able to do so only by identifying himself with another. The German philosopher, Schopenhauer, has very succinctly put it: “To a certain extent I have identified myself with the other man, and in consequence the barrier between the ego and the non-ego is for the moment abolished; only then do the other man’s affairs, his need, distress, and suffering directly become my own….”. Identification with others is possible because each human being, at bottom, is at one with the other.

The same human destiny with all its sufferings, trials and tribulations encompasses all mankind. His own inner being is not different from the others. Only a man without morality treats others as means to the furtherance of his own ends, makes use of them and rides roughshod over them

Compassion toward fellow human beings is a cardinal tenet of many world religions like Buddhism and Christianity. Buddha preached the need for compassion not only for human beings but also for animals. His doctrine of Ahimsa is embedded in the pervasive principle of compassion. Buddha prescribed compassion for both the householder as well as the ascetic. Jesus Christ developed a following among the fishermen of Galilee because of his unbounded comassion.

The people flocked to him with the sick and the diseased that Jesus cured and brought cheers to the suffering humanity. An unbroken line of Christian saints and ascetics have emulated the example set by Jesus to serve the suffering humanity in all parts of the globe.


Mother Teresa, the founder of Missionaries of Charity, has become synonymous with compassion in India. She looked after the people, who were abandoned by the society such as leprosy patients, widows and the infants abandoned by their parents. She was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her services to the suffering humanity.

The world has perhaps never been in such dire need of immense compasion as at present. The growing consumerism is making man more and more self centerd. Love and compassion for the poor and the unfortunate are simply missing in the life of the majority of mankind today.