What is the difference between Moral and Non-moral Actions?

Ethics as the science of morality has to give at the outset, an expository analysis of moral actions and distinguished from non-moral actions.

Now, by moral actions we mean here those actions which are therefore within the moral sphere and are thus objects of moral judgements. These actions are distinguished from non-moral action which means those actions that are devoid of moral quality and thus excluded from the scope of moral judgement. It should be noticed in this connection that the word moral is used in two senses.

In a wider sense the word moral means that in which moral quality, (rightness or wrongness, goodness or badness) is present, i.e., what is either right or wrong, good or bad.

In this sense moral is opposed to non-moral i.e. what is devoid of moral quality and can not be included within right or wrong. In the narrower sense it means what is right or morally good and thus is opposed to immoral i.e., what is wrong is morally bad.


Thus there is a sense in which what is immoral may be called ‘moral’ for it expresses a moral quality and this comes within the moral sphere.

Now, the question is what then are the actions that are moral in the wider sense? And what again are the actions that are classed as non-moral.

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It may be said that voluntary or international actions are moral in the wider sense. By a voluntary or international, action, we mean an action that is performed by a rational agent, not through blind impulse, but knowingly and intelligently, with pre-vision, desire and free choice of means and end. It follows from the above that the following classes of actions which are all non-voluntary are non- moral, i.e., outside the moral sphere and are not object of Judgement.


1. Actions of inanimate things,

2. Spontaneous or random action, i.e., actions that are the results of spontaneous over flow of energy from nerve centers,

3. Reflex action i.e., automatic response to sensory stimulation from without, and

4. Instinctive, actions, i.e. marvellous adjustments to unforseen or unanticipated and yet definite ends.


An instinctive action may be defined as one to which an individual feels himself impelled without knowing the end to be accomplished yet with ability to select the proper methods for its attainments.

An instinctive action consists in the performance of a connected series of facts coordinated and adopted to meet a distant, end which lies outside the individual’s present field of consequents from beyond the range of its own life. Instinctive tendencies are found most explicitly in lower animals and are expressed in the activities displayed by them in seeking food.

Similarly, actions of animals are not moral actions: The grazing of a cow, the running of a horse or moving of a cat cannot be termed as moral action as they cannot be called either good or bad, right or wrong, because they cannot discriminate between right and wrong. Actions of children and insanes persons who are incapable of discriminating between right and wrong are non-moral. Actions of idiots, actions done under the spell of hypnotic forces, actions done under compulsion, if that is irresistible and action done due to the peculiar complex which the individual has are also non-moral.

While considering the factors morality the following points are’ note worthy:

1. The institutions of morality contain forms of Judgements in which particular objects have or do not have moral quality.

2. Morality involves the sense of approval or disapproval.

3. It involves certain rules, principles, ideals and virtues which form the background of considering the rightness or wrongness of our actions.

4. It involves certain sanctions or additional sources of motivation that are also often expressed in interval Judgements namely holding someone responsible, praising or blaming him etc.

5. Morality involves a view point which is important for Judging reasoning and feeling etc.

When we consider the nature of moral action we have to take into account the nature of the moral agent. A human being is moral agent only when:

1. He has acted voluntarily. To act voluntarily means to get without any external influence, compulsion or Coercion.

2. A moral agent is one who has chosen to do so. Hence a moral action is such that it involves a free choice of course it is difficult to say when and where a man acts freely. A man is said to be acting freely when it is possible on his part to act otherwise. For example, a murder acted freely when there was a choice for him to do otherwise.

3. A man is a moral agent when he is responsible for his action. To say that a person is responsible means that he has acted under his conscious limits, he has acted voluntarily, he has desired to do so and he has an intention to do this action. Thus a moral action may be either good or bad but it must have been done freely or voluntarily by the moral agent.

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