7 junio, 2024

Moral act: concept, characteristics, elements and examples

We explain what a moral act is, its characteristics, elements and we give several examples.

What is a moral act?

A moral act It is an action that a human being performs voluntarily and beyond the satisfaction of natural needs, which is considered good following the ethical and moral codes of a society.

Human actions can be divided into two classes: mechanical and natural (walking, sleeping, breathing, protecting yourself from physical danger, washing hands, etc.); and morals or ethicsthat is, those that can be freely chosen and that imply positive or negative consequences.

Whether or not to use violence, stealing or reporting a theft, wearing or refusing to wear a mask in a pandemic, cheating on a classmate on an exam, participating in elections or not, are all moral decisions.

Living in society, human beings frequently carry out moral or ethical acts every day, small and big decisions where we use our values ​​and principles that do not always coincide with those of society in general.

Characteristics of the moral act

The act conforms to a code

An act is considered to be moral when it conforms to or goes against a code, a norm or a system of values. Codes or value systems are laws, religions, social norms, personal ethics, etc.

It is a voluntary act

The moral act is an act decided voluntarily, not imposed. Someone subjected to some kind of forced submission, such as slavery, sees their possibilities of performing a moral act restricted.

It’s a personal act

The moral act implies an individual decision. Although this usually coincides with the social group to which one belongs, it can sometimes go against the majority.

moral responsibility

A moral action generates moral responsibility on the part of the person who performs it. We are responsible for each of the decisions we make, even if sometimes we do it without thinking.

The moral act is rational and conscious

Generally there are reasons that push the person to act morally, and this action is chosen consciously, knowing what the consequences will be.

It is part of our personal conduct

Moral action is part of our habits and our social conduct. As we pointed out in the introduction, we make moral decisions and perform actions of this type every day.

Elements of a moral act

A moral act generally includes the following elements: a motive, an end, a means, and consequences.

reason or cause

Motives are those that drive you to perform an act. After a moral action there are causes that can be conscious or unconscious. Unconscious reasons can be some kind of resentment, childhood trauma, feelings of guilt or envy, etc.

Conscious motives can be ideological (such as religious morality, veganism or belonging to a political militancy), ethical (reasons that drive you to seek the good), or cynical («if everyone does it, why not I?»).

end or object

Moral action generally has an objective: to do good, to avoid evil, to improve someone’s living conditions, to obtain a personal or collective benefit, etc.

The middle

The means is the way in which the act is carried out: through deeds or words, using conventional ways or shortcuts, honestly or dishonestly. Despite the famous phrase that states that «the end justifies the means», more and more people believe that the means determine the end.

This means that wrong ways do not get a right achievement. The means is as important as the end.


They are the expected or unforeseen results of moral action. Beyond the intended objective, any moral action generates consequences, which are not always as expected, and can sometimes be contrary to what is expected. Hence the saying: “with good intentions the road to hell is paved”.

Examples of moral acts

Use of masks during the pandemic

During the Covid-19 pandemic, a controversy arose around the use of face masks in public spaces, caused by a minority that has refused to use it.

Wearing a mask, beyond the reasons given by health agencies, becomes a moral act, because in this way we make sure that we are not becoming a factor of contagion, and we contribute to general well-being.

Report violence at school

Bullying (harassment and violence at school) is one of the chronic problems in many schools around the world, which persists because students refuse to report bullies. Denouncing them or not is a moral act, especially when silence turns witnesses into accomplices.

Return the change when they give you more

You buy something in a store, you pay and they give you extra change. Notifying the clerk and returning what they gave you in excess is a moral act that denotes honesty and concern for others (consider that the shortfall could be deducted from the employee).

Opt for non-violence as a form of civil resistance

In the first half of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian leader, achieved the withdrawal of the British and the independence of his country without the need for a liberation war. Nonviolence as a form of civil disobedience is a moral act because it avoids harming others, even if you put your own life at risk.

Defend religious freedom and tolerance

For more than 500 years humanity has been fighting to guarantee freedom of thought, freedom of worship and the exercise of tolerance.

It is a moral act to defend these rights in all countries, and to be attentive to phenomena such as anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the rest of the world.

Do not cheat on an exam

It is a dilemma of many students in the world, and one of the first moral conflicts that a young person faces. Not cheating on an exam is a moral act because it implies honesty, respect for the teacher and for oneself.

Vote or abstain in an election

Voting or abstaining are moral acts because they indicate our degree of commitment to democracy and to the society in which we live.

Other examples

Help elderly people cross the street or bring food to their homes.
Help people in need who live on the street.
Treat or take an injured animal to the vet.
Return a wallet found lying on the street.
Staying in the hospital with a friend who is sick.
Join an NGO to help people in need.
Yield a seat on the bus to a person who is blind or has another disability.

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