Consider a situation where one would not suffer social sanctions for being immoral (maybe nobody knows he is doing something wrong, or maybe society is ok with it).

Are there any non-moral reasons to be moral?

  • 1
    Of course. Reputation. Revenge from someone 'wronged'. And game theory concerns eg philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/78788/… and many others. I make the case morality is about shared stories & events with widespread interpretations of them, which are used in informing young people about how to act & make decisions, here: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/79867/… Midas, & Sisyphus, illustrate unconstrained power to be 'immoral'
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Mar 27, 2021 at 19:20
  • Reputation, revenge and game theory concerns are only reasons to act morally when the one doing the act has to be concerned by these. Suppose veganism is right. What would be a non-moral reason to be vegan? Assume the vegan will not be affected by climate change is his lifetime and there's no significant health gain by being vegan. Commented Mar 27, 2021 at 20:44
  • Cheaper food..?
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Mar 27, 2021 at 20:58
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    It depends on what counts as a "reason". The word is ambiguous and may refer to purposes or causes, among other things. One can certainly come up with scenarios where a moral action does not serve any utilitarian or prudential purpose. But even then acting morally can be ascribed to ingrained biological compulsions and/or social habits, if one accepts evolutionary ethics, for example.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 27, 2021 at 21:09
  • The question is too hazy... What is "acting morally" supposed to be? For example, from a Kantian POV there cannot be a nonmoral reason to act from the motive of duty proper. There can be nonmoral reasons to act in accordance with duty, however. Commented Mar 27, 2021 at 22:16

7 Answers 7


As always, It depends a lot on the moral framework you are considering.

For example deontologists like Kant would say that acting in accordance to moral rules without a moral reason, say, being generous in order to show of your wealth, is not being moral at all. So in his view, you can't be moral for bad reasons, because if your reasons are bad you are not moral in the first place.

On the other hand, consequentialists like Bentham or Stuart Mill would argue that what is to be considered is the result of your actions.

For some consequentialists, like hedonistic utilitarianists, the reasons behind your actions do not count, so as long as the result is maximizing happiness you are acting morally. As a result in their view too, you can't act morally for bad reasons, but with a totally different argument than for Kant.

A framework that would allow bad reasons for moral actions would have to be some sort of consequentialism, because for deontologists if your motivation is wrong your action is wrong. Rule consequentialism looks like a potential candidate, as we could imagine a person following the rule not for the sake of following it but for personal reasons that do not match the rule. Since the action follows the rule it is moral, but the motivation would not be.

To be honest, while researching for this answer I found it is in fact surprisingly difficult to act morally for immoral reasons 🤔


I believe that all morality is relative.

However, it is supporting group cohesion in a pre-existing socio-political setting. Starting with that point onwards, I would dare suggest yes - one can be moral for the sake of reason, derive morality from ethos (character), logoi (principle) or nature. Most morality is socialized by peers and mentors (nurture), but it is largely un-reflective and trained in a cognitive-behavioral manner. People act morally, because they are trained to without a second thought -"why?"

In Republican Rome, ethics and conduct were based on reason-derived morality. In other words, foundational premises for being moral were to uphold a society based on a series of logical causal tenets with far-reaching insights that secured wise solutions for all, to an extent that the differences between peoples and interest groups allowed in the process of metamorphoses of societies. Roman Republican, "pagan" morality was different than Christian, undoubtedly.

It is an idealized picture to assume that the morality was universal, as every person has his or hers own version of "morality" or "belief" governed by qualia (qualitative differences in perception), yet they may be clustered in larger patterns of understanding, reflection and conduct. "On Duties" written by Marcus Tullius Cicero may be such an example. In "On Politics" by Kamandaki, purposed to be a compendium of advice to a king, rely on virtue-based realpolitik morality which is also elucidated on reasonable grounds or the typical "this existing, that arises" relationships of "co-arising, co-dependents" in some branches of Hindi philosophy.

Morality may be exploited and turned left and right, the earliest "Machiavelli" was Fei Tzu, a Chinese legalist writing centuries before "The Prince" was ever written. He advised manipulation, including manipulation of sentiment and morality in order to gain political ground, yet he largely lost ground to Confucius, Master Kong, who was a true cultural hero - i.e. he laid moral, virtuous foundations for a civilizational reform.

I am convinced that it is up to the person concerned whether he or she wants to pursue morality for whatsoever reasons but by and large it is value-driven, that is based on integrity, or belief-driven, for example as metaphysically-derived codes of conduct, found either in "sacred scriptures" or any form or "revelations", or rules and codices set by sages and great philosophers as a diamond for the rest, an advise, a wayward sign.

Marcus Aurelius "Meditations" of the Stoa school may be an example, Plotinus "Enneads" of the neo-platonic school another great treatise. There are as many didactic branches and sub-types of intructions in morality that cultures produced that there is plenty of room to explore, why "morality should not be pursued for the sake of morality itself" but for a multitude other reasons - if such is one's will and wisdom.

The problem with the consensual notion of "morality" is that nowadays most encountered "moralities" are related to theologically-derived moralities, in other words based on dogmas, doctrines, religion-based aretology (study of virtue), not on introspection, insight, wisdom, observation, discipline, studies and such.

Still, this is just begrieving the fact that not many people nowadays study such writings with insight, but rely on the "because we were told to". Perhaps fortunately - cohesion is preserved at best, at worst, perhaps fatally - when we are confronted with crises and true ethical and moral questions arise, we are lost to factionalism and quarrels, instead of knowing why we behave they way we do with an aim and thought!


Morality is relative. It differs on several levels. Male female can have different moral beliefs. Society and individuals can have different moral beliefs. Morality also varies from person to person. Moral beliefs are different for child and adult as well.
So to answer your question we will have to ask whose morality are we talking about ? There is no universal set of moral rules. Depending upon your point of view we can say which reasons were necessary for such and such belief.
In general we can safely say society at large wants to avoid pain by escaping from war and diseases and for that purpose moral beliefs were developed.


Ill-formed question: ..."non-moral reasons to be moral" implies that a person acts according to morals only for "moral reasons", which is a pleonasm. You are suggesting that the reason for being moral is being moral.

So, you are missing the purpose of morals.

We follow moral rules for multiple purposes. For example, we do not kill in order to survive; we say good morning, thank you and please to improve our social or even economic interactions; etc.

So, if being kind and saying please goes along morals, being rude and not saying please goes against morals. Evidently, that's not punished. In such case, is there any reason to say please? Of course. But when you speak rudely to a client, you will lose him. Saying please will improve your interactions with the client, making him come again; with your wife, making her being also polite with you and your family; with your children, teaching them to create constructive relationships, etc.


Biblically, I think the answer is sometimes. In fact, I believe Jesus Christ discussed that very topic:

Luke 14:12 Then said he [Jesus] also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee.
13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:
14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.

For many, hiding Jews during the Nazi era was strictly for biblical/moral reasons, since it put them in great danger with no worldly benefit (e.g., Corrie Ten Boom).

Thus, the only motivation for certain moral actions, in specific situations, is morality (righteousness).


Morality is an extremely complex realm within philosophy and mainly includes meta-ethics, which studies related abstract metaphysical issues such as moral ontology and moral semantics, and normative ethics, which studies more concrete systems of moral decision-making such as deontology and consequentialism. Moral ontology views (What is the nature of moral judgments?) mainly include moral universalism and moral relativism. Moral semantics (What is the meaning of moral judgments?) views mainly include cognitivism and non-cognitivism. So under this context, as an important note, many people holding the view that morality is totally relative to individual actually can be further refined and classified into whether they view moral judgement action itself is relative or the meaning of their moral judgement about something as good or bad has objective propositional truth value or not. Finally it seems only from the POV of normative ethics' consequentialism above (which unlike deontology, only evaluates morality based on one's action's consequence), you can possibly act morally with non-moral reasons, but since you achieve the result without true ethical understanding, it's very unlikely you can always achieve such result.

Since your question seems only concerns non-moral reason, so we don't actually need any ethics knowledge here, but it's still beneficial for you to familiarize with the whole moral philosophical context. If you want to always act morally without moral reasons, we can explore next concept called amorality (note it's not immorality). Amorality is variously defined as an unawareness of, indifference toward, or disbelief in any particular set of moral standards or principles. There is a view that claims amorality is just another form of morality or a concept that is close to it, citing the case of moral naturalism (morality is naturally innate qualities due to biological evolution alone), for instance. Only under this view, you can always act morally with non-moral reasons. But this seems like a definition manipulation game and few philosophers subscribe to this POV, since a person without fully aware and willed choices cannot be called a moral agent...


Are there any non-moral reasons to be moral?

Yes, it is called Karma. What you do has an effect on you, even if you don't realize it. Lie, and next time lying will come easier. Lie repeatedly, and someday your lie will lead to pain.

Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

--attributed, perhaps wrongly, to Lao Tzu


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