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What Is Moral Intelligence?

By Marlene de Wilde
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Moral intelligence is the summation of seven traits that a moral person exhibits. These traits are consistency, inhibitory control, responsibility, logic, cooperation, fairness and empathy. The measure of moral intelligence rests on the extent to which these traits are exhibited. Morality seems to be innate to a certain extent and then environment, culture and education build and mature this sense. The extent to which nature and nurture are responsible for the building of morality is still a subject of debate.

The inner conscience is that little voice inside the head that tells when actions are right or wrong. A strong conscience is the cornerstone of moral intelligence and its development in a child is the goal of most parents. In order for children to build on their instinct of what is good and what is bad, they need good role models as much of what they learn is absorbed subconsciously.

Inhibitory control is the ability to show patience and self control in the face of temptation and to be able to wait for long term goals. A sense of sacrifice for the common good is also motivated by the empathy felt for others. Obligation and responsibility contributes to the survival instinct of a species. Consistency and fairness are vital to the operation of society and the inclusion of the rights of all to fair play.

Logic is the aspect of moral intelligence that deliberates on whether actions will aid or hinder others. This kind of pro-active thinking usually comes with age though older people are not necessarily more morally intelligent than younger people. Research has shown that an instinctual sense of what is right and what is wrong is similar across cultures and religious beliefs or lack of religion. There seems to be a universal moral code in even very young children as exhibited in their sense of fair play in games.

The fact that people have different levels of moral intelligence is what leads to the necessity of the existence of laws. In an ideal word, everyone would be morally intelligent to the degree that laws would not be necessary. This kind of utopia would be a fragile being, however, without laws to support it as there will always be one person whose moral intelligence is different to the others and their actions can bring down a well-functioning society if adherence to the unspoken rules is voluntary.

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Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On Nov 22, 2014

@SarahGen-- That's a good question.

I'm not an expert on this topic so I'm not sure. But since religion is a basis of moral and ethical rules for most societies, I would assume so.

I'm also interested in whether someone can improve moral intelligence just by trying. Can empathy be learned for example?

I know that for example, it is possible for sociopaths who tend to have low levels of moral intelligence to learn to show more inhibition empathy. But does this mean that they have higher levels of moral intelligence or does it just mean that they are pretending to have higher morals?

I think it's very difficult to test this theory. I think that someone who pretends to care or who learns to do something knowing that that's what others consider to be right, may no actually have better morals. But how can we prove either?

By SarahGen — On Nov 21, 2014

What about the connection between moral intelligence and religion? Do religious people tend to have higher levels of moral intelligence? Can someone improve their moral intelligence by becoming more religious?

By serenesurface — On Nov 21, 2014

I think that people are either born with moral intelligence, or they're not. I do believe that someone's environment, nurturing and education can further develop this or repress it. But if one is not born with it, no amount of nurturing or education can help that person develop a conscience.

If someone has a conscience, that inner sense of right and wrong, even if he falls into mistakes sometimes, he will eventually find his way back.

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