A Bringer of New Things

Musings on personal growth, books, motherhood, writing, and more.

A Mystery Novel’s Musings on Morality


I recently discovered Alexander McCall Smith, through his mystery series The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, and I’m enamored. This series is set in modern-day Botswana (near South Africa), and the main character, Mma (a title like Miss or Madame) Ramotswe, a detective, is a strong, wise woman, and I absolutely adore her.

In the book I’m currently reading, number three in the series, Mma Ramotswe pauses to reflect on morality—good and bad, right and wrong. I think these ideas are very sound and relevant to our American culture today. What do you think?

“Most morality, thought Mma Ramotswe, was about doing the right thing because it had been identified as such by a long process of acceptance and observance. You simply could not create your own morality because your experience would never be enough to do so. What gives you the right to say that you know better than your ancestors? Morality is for everybody, and this means that the views of more than one person are needed to create it. That was what made the modern morality, with its emphasis on individuals and the working out of an individual position, so weak. If you gave people the chance to work out their morality, then they would work out the version which was easiest for them and which allowed them to do what suited them for as much of the time as possible. That, in Mma Ramotswe’s view, was simple selfishness, whatever grand name one gave to it.”

–Alexander McCall Smith, Morality for Beautiful Girls, pp. 77-78

While obviously this passage is not a rigorous, philosophical treatment of ethics, I think it’s true and valuable on the level of practical, intuitive action (for part of philosophy’s mission is to logically explain our intuitive thoughts and actions). It falls in line with the business ethics course I’m taking for my continuing education requirements at work; in the course, I’m learning how ethical action has, at its heart, fairness as opposed to selfishness.

My personal application of this passage is that I, one young traveler on the road of life, should not give too much weight to my own opinions, but should continue trying to consult a variety of guides (past and present writers, speakers, thinkers, etc.) who have lived and shared their observations about life.


One comment on “A Mystery Novel’s Musings on Morality

  1. margaretparkergaret
    October 23, 2013

    I love these books – and the practical philosophy is a large part of why!


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This entry was posted on October 23, 2013 by in Discoveries from Living and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .
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