From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"The English language has no derivative noun from "mores," and no equivalent for it. The French mœurs is trivial compared with "mores." The German Sitte renders "mores" but very imperfectly. The modern peoples have made morals and morality a separate domain, by the side of religion, philosophy, and politics. In that sense, morals is an impossible and unreal category. It has no existence, and can have none."--Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals (1907) by William Graham Sumner
Mores [Pronounced MORE-ays] are strongly held norms or customs. These derive from the established practices of a society rather than its written laws. Taboos form the subset of mores that forbid a society's most outrageous behaviours, such as incest and murder in many societies. Usually these are formalized in some kind of moral code, e.g. commandments. Most sociologists reject the thesis that the formalization matters as much as the informal social response of disgust and isolation of offenders. The term mores as used in sociology is a plural noun. The Latin singular, which is not used in English, is mos--in English, the word has no singular, making it plurale tantum. The English word morality comes from the same root, as does the noun moral, which can mean the 'core meaning of a story'.
However, constant exposure to social mores is thought by some to lead to development of an individual moral core, which is pre-rational and consists of a set of inhibitions that cannot be easily characterized except as potential inhibitions against taking opportunities that the family or society does not consider desirable. These in turn cannot be easily separated from individual opinions or fears of getting caught.
Tocqueville claimed that democracy in America influenced mores properly, from a European perspective; mores became milder as conditions equalized.
Examples of mores are the differences between a man and woman walking down the street topless. While the man may receive mild sanctions a woman would receive harsh sanctions for the same act. Another example might be someone picking his or her nose; which, although harmless, is widely considered as disgusting to the general populace and goes against the normal.
The meaning of all these terms extend to all customs of proper behavior in a given society, both religious and profane, from more trivial conventional aspects of costume, etiquette or politeness, "folkways" enforced by gentle social pressure, but going beyond mere "folkways" or conventions in including moral codes and notions of justice down to strict taboos, behavior that is unthinkable within the society in question, very commonly including incest and murder, but also the commitment of outrages specific to the individual society such as blasphemy. Such religious or sacral customs may be unpredictable and vary completely from one culture to another: while uttering the name of God may be a taboo in one culture, uttering it as often as possible may be considered pious in the extreme in another.
While cultural universals are by definition part of the mores of every society (hence also called "empty universals"), the customary norms specific to a given society are a defining aspect of the cultural identity of a ethnicity or a nation. Coping with the differences between two sets of cultural conventions is a question of intercultural competence. Differences in the mores of various nations are at the root of ethnic stereotype, or in the case of reflection upon one's own mores, auto stereotypes.
- Norm (social)
- Value (personal and cultural)
- Folkways (sociology)
- Euthyphro dilemma, discussing the conflict of sacral and secular mores
- Nihonjinron "Japanese mores"
- Culture-bound syndrome
- Political and Moral Sociology: see Luc Boltanski and French Pragmatism