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Moral purpose and its place in society

In her commentary, associate Opinion editor Lydia Lim referred to individuals who manifested great courage and tied it up with moral purpose in life ("What the world needs is courage"; June 26).

What I find rather nebulous, however, is the distinction she drew between moralism and moral purpose.

Moralism, she wrote, "implies judgmentalism and a drawing of lines between those who are good and those who are bad, of wanting to impose one's moral code on others and to exclude those who do not subscribe to the same way of life".

She quoted the definition of moral purpose from Nikos Mourkogiannis, who succinctly defined it as "a value that, when articulated, appeals to the innate sense held by some individuals of what is right and what is worthwhile".

Mourkogiannis elaborated: "A moral purpose's effectiveness also depends on its connection to the shared culture of humanity - to the extent that it draws on philosophical ideas that have stood the test of time."

In a post-modern world where everything and every value is deemed as relative, I wonder how we come to the innate sense of what is right and worthwhile.

If there are no absolute "rights" and "wrongs", who determines what is right? And what is this connection to the shared culture of humanity, when various philosophical theories have concluded that what is right to one person may be wrong to another, and one has no right to impose on another what one believes to be right and worthwhile?

Also, the "test of time" argument has been thrown out time and again during the ages of Renaissance, modernism and post-modernism.

The term "moral" implies the distinction between right and wrong and even a moral code of conduct in some sense, which is tied up with the wholesome moral values and character in society that have stood the test of time.

Moral purpose then becomes relevant and certainly reflects and involves the courage to defend and to uphold what is right and worthwhile.

It may not sound politically correct in some quarters but, certainly, moral purpose and character are well understood by those who can distinguish what is right from what is wrong and are not afraid to say it and to uphold it even at a cost.

Quek Koh Choon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 10, 2016, with the headline 'Moral purpose and its place in society'. Print Edition | Subscribe