Feature

How morality became obsolete

“I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it,” is a typical refrain, said David Brooks at The New York Times.

David BrooksThe New York Times

If it feels right to me, then it is. That, said David Brooks, pretty much sums up the moral philosophy of most young Americans, who have grown up unmoored from any cultural or religious framework for knowing right from wrong. In a depressing new book, Lost in Transition, a group of sociologists documents how people in their late teens and early 20s have come to view moral choices as “just a matter of individual taste,” and seem perplexed when asked to make judgments about behavior that earlier generations would clearly label as wrong.

Cheating on tests? Infidelity? Drunken driving? In interviews, young people say that decisions about such behavior are “up to the individual.” There is virtually no sense of any overarching value system or obligation to society or to others. “I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it,” is a typical refrain. For this, we can only blame schools, institutions, and families. From blind deference to churches and authority, our society has swung to the other extreme, and now morality is purely “something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart.”

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