A moral act is an act that prevents harm.
Harm is anything that hinders the right and ability of others to make moral choices.
At the simplest, most basic level, a moral act is preserving the life of another person.
A firefighter performs a moral act by rescuing a victim from a fire.
A parent performs a moral act by caring for their child.
At a more nuanced level, a moral act is promoting the ability of another person to make good, informed moral choices.
An educator performs a moral act by passing along knowledge that helps others make good, informed moral choices.
What is moral for one may not be moral for another; an act that is moral under one set of circumstances may not be moral under another.
A thief who steals bread to feed their family has committed a moral act by preventing their family from starving. However, it is an immoral act insofar as depriving a baker of their property without compensation hinders, to however small a degree, the ability of the baker to make moral choices of their own by depriving them of the material that gives them the ability to live and thus the ability to make moral choices of their own.
It is possible for a person to commit what they genuinely believe is a moral act that nonetheless has harmful repercussions.
It is possible for a person to knowingly commit an immoral act that nonetheless will result in enabling others to make good, informed moral choices.
It is possible for a person to commit an immoral act yet genuinely justify it in their own opinion as moral.
It is possible for a person to commit a moral act that some other person will then use to enable them to commit an immoral act.
All things considered equal, the greatest moral act is the one that enables the most people to make the best, most informed moral choices for the longest period of time.
It has been said “give someone a fish and they eat for a day, teach someone to fish and they will eat tomorrow.” That is not an either / or proposition: If someone will starve today without a fish, feed them a fish then teach them to fish so they may feed themselves in the future.
Anyone who denies another person a necessity of life so that the denier may live in greater luxury is committing an immoral act.
Anyone who initiates an action without considering the long term repercussions is at the very least behaving recklessly. A moral act today may nonetheless cause harm to others in the future; the person committing the moral act needs to consider possible consequences and to think ahead of what they will need to do to mitigate any potential harm.
No one should interfere with the non-harmful actions or behaviors of others.
One may justify interference in another person’s actions if those actions are causing harm to a third party without their fully informed consent. A trained martial artist gives their fully informed consent before beginning a sanctioned match with another trained martial artist; an untrained victim does not give fully informed consent to a surprise attack by a robber.
Harming someone to prevent them from harming others is justifiable only in acute, clear cut cases: Striking down a shooter firing into a crowd of school children is justifiable insofar as it spares innocent lives, putting a robber in prison is justifiable insofar as it prevents them from committing more robberies while incarcerated.
What would be best, of course, is to be aware of others to the degree that one can spot potential trouble before it occurs, and to take steps to prevent someone from harming others without harming them in the process.
There is a difference between directly causing harm, indirectly causing harm, and potentially causing harm.
Preventing someone from harming a third party today does little good if no steps are taken to prevent harm from befalling that third party in the future. The immediate acute problem is taken care of, to be sure, but if a chronic long term problem still exists, that needs to be addressed as well.
Sometimes all that can be done at the moment is to handle the immediate problem.
Sometimes one can do nothing about the immediate problem, but can take steps that will help the third party in the future; then all one can do is hope and have faith that the third party will be able to enjoy the benefits of those steps when the time comes.
Ultimately, there can be no morality at all without a realization that we are all connected to everyone else in the human race, and that everyone else is just as entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as we are, not one iota more, not one iota less.