A human action can be considered as a moral action whether it has the following characteristics:
- It is done by adjusting to a code or a set of moral rules and values. These rules and values designate what should be considered as morally good or bad, advisable or inadvisable, etc. In the next section we will study what the moral values and rules are.
- This moral code should not be imposed by the society to the people, but each individual must be free to choose it. For example, I must be free to choose whether or not euthanasia is something acceptable from a moral point of view. For this reason, morality is above all an individual matter related to the autonomy of each person.
- Being free when acting is something extremely important when assessing an action from a moral perspective because, if I act freely, then I am morally responsible for what I do or don't do.
- Thus, a fundamental condition appears so that we can judge whether an individual behaviour is morally right or not: It is necessary that they know what they do. Just this way, we can assert that they act freely and, therefore, they are responsible for their actions. Indeed, unlike animals, which are driven by their instincts, humans are 'moral beings' because we are rational, that is, when acting, we know what we do, we choose among several means to achieve our goals, we analyse and evaluate the pros and cons, we judge whether or not the means and the goals are advisable or not, and we are even able to anticipate the possible consequences or results of our actions. In conclusion, when a person acts rationally and also makes it freely, their action can be judge by means of moral values (generous or selfish, fair or unfair, etc.).
- Finally, since people do not live in isolation, but we are citizens of a society, we are not only responsible for the consequences of our own actions in ourselves, but we also have to calculate their impact on the people we live with. Therefore, morality also has a social dimension. Our moral actions take place in our coexistence with others, and those people are who approve or reject our actions according to a set of shared rules and values. If we lived alone on a desert island, morals would not make much sense, let alone ethics.
Therefore, unlike animals that are governed by some instinctive patterns that do not allow them to choose their behaviour, human beings, on the contrary, are free, that is, we can choose and decide how to act. Although we are not absolutely free, because we are conditioned by factors (such as our genetic nature, sociocultural environment, the time and place in which we live, etc.), we still have enough freedom to decide how to act in a rational way.