Make Your Editor Cry: Amoral vs. Immoral

Make Your Editor Cry:  Amoral vs. Immoral

If you are amoral, you’re not a jerk, you just don’t know that what you’re doing is wrong. The word was invented rather recently by an author. In the 1800s, Robert Louis Stevenson, in his novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, coined the word amoral to differentiate from immoral. Amoral is generally more descriptive, rather than judgmental. Use the adverb amorally to describe something that’s done without any thought about whether it’s right or wrong. If you wonder why anyone would purchase the more expensive “fair trade” coffee, you probably make your buying decisions amorally.

Immoral entered the language sometime in the 1600s. It means having a deviant morality and choosing to be wicked, cruel, or evil. If you are immoral, you know the difference between right and wrong, yet you choose to do wrong anyway. Use the adjective immoral to describe a person, group, or situation that intentionally goes against what is known to be right, like a government that attacks its own people, child molesters, a neighbor who steals your tools, people who talk in theaters, or actor Jude Law by virtue of his existence.

NOTE: Don’t get me started on Jude Law. No, really. Don’t.

If you call someone immoral, you are saying that person knows better. If you call him amoral, you are saying that person does wrong but doesn’t understand that it is wrong.

A Jeep is amoral. A Jeep driver can be immoral. If an unattended Jeep rolls downhill on it’s own and injures someone, that is an amoral act. If a driver gets behind the wheel, operates the Jeep, and intentionally brings about injury to someone, that is an immoral act, especially if the driver laughs maniacally while doing it.

A weapon, like a gun or a crossbow, is amoral. It has no sense of right and wrong because it is an inanimate object, not a person possessed of a soul. One who operates a weapon with evil intent like a murderer is immoral while one who operates a weapon for the greater good like a soldier can show morality.

Persons raised in many western churches who eat, say pork, consume the flesh of unclean animals amorally because that is their accepted tradition. A person who has studied scripture and been convicted by the many biblical directives to avoid eating unclean foods will avoid pork on a moral basis.  One who then intentionally serves pork to that person known to morally abstain from eating unclean foods could be said to be acting on an immoral basis.

Examples:

Incorrect:

People who hold their nose and vote cast their vote immorally.

He found an ignorant and corrupt society ruled by an amoral yet fanatical monarch.

Correct:

People who hold their nose and vote cast their vote amorally.

He found an ignorant and corrupt society ruled by an immoral yet fanatical monarch.

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