What Are Moral Values? Definition, Examples and Case Studies

What Are Moral Values? Definition, Examples and Case Studies

Before discussing further about moral values, there is one case of death that many people may have forgotten. In March 2014, the viral case of Ade Sara, a student whose body was found lifeless. Investigate a calibaration, it turns out he was the victim of the murder of his own ex-girlfriend.

The Indonesian people are pitied by this case because it is suspected that the perpetrator, Ade Sara’s ex-girlfriend and her lover, mercilessly committed violence against the victim. Looking at this case, we may easily agree that the act of killing is far from good moral values.

In a broader scope, it is not uncommon for the label ‘moral crisis’ to be attached to some corrupt government actors. Hundreds of millions, or even billions of Rupiah sold out without a trace only to fulfill the material desires of officials who never know enough.

In fact, beyond that, there are many people who are poor and far from prosperous. There are still many areas in remote areas that have not been touched due to hampered development. Then, do we agree that acts of corruption also have low moral values?

In fact, perpetrators of corruption in Indonesia do not easily lose their prestige both in the entertainment world and in the political arena. Even though they have been proven guilty, they can still smile in front of the camera. Even the court did not hesitate to reduce their sentences on the grounds of public insults that befell the corruptors.

At this point, we’ve been confused again. So is the act of corruption a commendable act so that it cannot be abused? Or, no matter how bad, as far as an act of good moral values, we don’t need to abuse it?

Knowing Morals and Moral Values

According to Hauser (2006), morality is something within humans that makes them able to determine what is good and what is bad, although sometimes humans do not know what the reason is. In terms of moral values, this one is more akin to a psychological impulse that makes humans do good. So, every human must have it.

However, surely we have experienced times where we did a lot of consideration before doing good. Take, for example, when natural disasters hit Indonesia, thousands of people fled.

There is an emotional impulse that makes our hearts move to help them, for example by volunteering. However, in reality this is not possible because we cannot leave work, college or family, so we end up not helping as volunteers. From here, finally the question arises, is morality caused by emotion or a process of cognition?

Elements of Moral Value

A study conducted by several researchers in America (Greene, Nystrom, Engell, Darley, & Cohen, 2004), found the conclusion that moral action is based on these two elements, cognition and emotion.

  • Emotion – Individuals involve emotional social in taking moral judgments to reject acts of violence that can harm others. This kind of urge usually makes a person feel hard to do violence, because every time he does it will arise a feeling of guilt from within him.
  • Cognition – Individuals involve cognitive processes to accept the type of violence in the relevant context. For example, it is better to sacrifice one person to save five others. This is clearly an act of violence if we only look at one person who was sacrificed. However, if not one person is sacrificed, the other five will become victims of violence.

The two elements do not stand alone, but are involved in the process of moral judgment. The role of cognition is more involved in the process of gathering information, as well as a control function for each moral action.

However, in the process of gathering this information, emotional impulses also play a role, especially in a motivational context. The two have different functions, but are closely related and cannot be separated.

Each person also has different abilities, so that in determining moral values, humans are further divided into two categories. 1) it is difficult to make moral judgments, and 2) it is easy to do so (Greene, Nystrom, Engell, Darley, & Cohen, 2004).

For people who find it difficult to determine moral values, cognitive function and emotional drive, both work very powerfully. So, this is what often causes moral dilemmaa condition in which a person is confused which action is the most appropriate and moral.

On the other hand, for people who are easy to make moral judgments, one element, cognition or emotion, plays a bigger role and does not push each other. So, in carrying out a moral action, people with this type do not consider much.

It’s different when asked, are moral judgments based on awareness or unconsciousness/intuition? Cushman, Young, and Hauser (2006) tried to formulate this in his research. As a result, they came to the conclusion that both (consciousness and intuition) equally affect a person’s moral judgment, but with different compositions, according to three principles of moral judgment:

  • Action Principle Under this principle, violence based on action is considered more immoral than violence based on negligence. In this principle, moral judgments are carried out almost fully consciously and rationally, because in their research, the subject can provide reasons why an action is considered immoral. The role of intuition is small here.
  • Intention Principle This principle explains that violence committed as a goal (intended) is more immoral than violence committed as a side effect of achieving a goal. Contrary to the previous principle, in this principle, moral judgments are mostly carried out by the process of intuition. Subjects cannot explain the reasons why an action is considered moral or not, they only make judgments, that person A is moral, and person B is not. Meanwhile, the role of consciousness and rationality is minimal
  • Contact Principle The principle that emphasizes physical contact. Violence committed by physical contact is more immoral than violence without direct physical contact. In contrast to the two principles above, in this principle it is formulated that someone makes an assessment through this perspective, initially done intuitively, and then followed by a conscious and rational assessment.

The explanation above has broken previous moral theories, such as Kohlberg who said that morals are purely the result of reasoning. Or Mikhail who actually states that morality is the result of an intuitive process. Because in fact, the more recent, research on morality further strengthens that morals are multisystem/multidimensional in nature (Cushman & Young, 2009)

And finally we come to the question: when we already know what the tools are in determining moral values, what can we do to become moral people?


Cushman, F., & Young, L. (2009). The Psychology of Dilemmas and the Philosophy of Morality. Ethic Theory Moral Prac 9-24.

Cushman, F., Young, L., & Hauser, M. (2006). The Role of Conscious Reasoning and Intuition in Moral Judgment : Testing Three Principles of Harm. Journal of Psychological Science , Vol. 17 No. 121082-1089.

Greene, JD, Nystrom, LE, Engell, AD, Darley, JM, & Cohen, JD (2004). The Neural Bases of Cognitive Conflict and Control in Moral Judgment. Neuron Journal 44389-400.

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