With a world with infinite possibilities of actions one might take, is the default position for whether an action is morally accepted or not is:

  • No unless justified
  • Yes unless unjustified (justify the ban)

In other words, which is correct in regards to the default position of every action:

  • All actions are morally unaccepted unless justified
  • All actions are morally accepted unless unjustified (justify the ban of the action)

Do ethicists generally hold every action need a moral justification, and if so, which ones primarily?

  • 1
    There are stringent moralists who say yes, but the majority says no. In Christian ethics matters "neither commanded nor forbidden in the Word of God" are called adiaphora ("indifferent", originally applied to church rites only). One is free to choose what to do about them, unless other considerations interfere, and that is a proper use of the free will God granted to us. In secular ethics this is phrased in terms of rights and moral permissions.
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 20:40
  • 1
    One can do both in the ideal case. Your 2nd position is like a complete moral code of conduct/law one is required to obey all the time, and your 1st position is like before every non-trivial action one had better weigh and choose the optimal one based on one's own moral philosophy and knowledge. Of course in reality many actions had become habits long ago thus this sounds extremely unpractical for the majority. As Arendt famously said "No one has the right to obey", so even seemingly harmless obey/follow some rules may need justification, perhaps simply to agree with someone also needs... Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 23:51

1 Answer 1


The question here comes back to one's core mode of moral reasoning. If morality is seen primarily as a way to avoid undesirable circumstances, then any action without a known or suspected bad outcome should be on the table. But if morality is seen primarily as having purpose or duty toward a greater good, then any action not aligned with said good is inherently undesirable.

In the former case, life's purpose is taken as what nature provides, including instinct and intuition. In the latter case, life's purpose takes on an exterior aura, perhaps artificial, perhaps deontological, perhaps transcendental. Basically, one is living for the flesh, or one is living for something greater.

Then there is the middle, where a person lives for the self but dedicates free time toward something greater. Probably people stand on a continuum.

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