Is morality objective?

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In practice, morality varies from place to place and time to time. But should it? Is there some universal moral code which applies to all persons in all places, or is custom king?


Objective truths are not determined by subjective experiences. Regardless of your cultural upbringing, if you jump off a high enough vantage point, a calculated force can kill you, that's objectivity. If it is determined by our preconceptions, it is subjective. The clue is in the terms 'subject' and 'object'. One is intertwined with the subject while the other is independent of it, as objects are.

Morality is objectiveEdit

Arguments forEdit

  •   Argument for — Although there are some differences in moral practice, there are substantial similarities in what many cultures think should be correct behavior and there are also some taboos which are very common in practice. For example the prohibition of murder or marriage between siblings. These can form a basis for a cosmopolitan morality.
    •   Objection — A cosmopolitan morality is not an objective morality. Objectivity is completely independent of sentient beings, by definition.
    •   Objection — Humans are about 99.9% genetically similar to each other and may have evolved to feel some acts as repulsive and others as good. Thus, there may be other explanations for similarities in our moral practice and we cannot argue that coming to the same conclusions implies that we are understanding an objective moral reality.
    •   Objection — If morality were objective, one would expect all of it to be objective, not just the part which most human cultures tend to agree on. How could "is murder bad?" have an objective answer while "is premarital sex bad?" does not?
      •   Objection — Such is a false standard. There are substantial similarities, but we did not say equalities. Humans are dumb at times.
  •   Argument for — Human morality is based on human psychology which is an objective part of the Universe. Therefore, morality is an objective part of the Universe.
    •   Objection — Decisions based on human psychology are by definition subjective.
  •   Argument for — Objective morality exists under the guise of modern game theory.
    •   Objection — Game theory describes strategic decision making, not which decisions are morally wrong or right. You would need to claim that acting rationally is good while acting irrationally is bad to call game theory a morality. And that would of course be a subjective claim. Rationality does not call itself morally good.
  •   Argument for — We can arrive at an objective ethical norm by universalizing the duty that exists intrinsically in interests: (1) "My interests should not be frustrated"; (2) "The interests should not be frustrated"; (3) We add the consideration of the omissions: "A priori, the interests should not be frustrated".
    •   Objection — These premises are unproven and there's no objective reason to accept them.
  •   Argument for — Morality is promoting happiness, well-being and health, while immorality is promoting harm, suffering and pain. All of these phenomena are rooted in objective, measurable biological processes. Therefore, morality is objective.
    •   Objection — Pain aversion doesn't define morality as objective, that's using an evolutionary mechanism as a definition of morality, which causes it to fail. Else a lot of arbitrary daily activities would be deemed immoral, like working at a job you are 'unhappy' at. The moral thing to do would be to provide everyone with enough money to simply pursue their hobbies. The pain one goes through to train for something would be immoral. Defining morality as a measurement of the aversion of pain, and therefore, an objective measure would mean that a large percentage of our own actions towards ourselves would be immoral in nature even if we do them out of a sense of commitment or duty. Sexual activities are pleasurable to most people but yet deemed immoral in a lot of religions outside certain context.[1]
  •   Argument for — Morality is sometimes objective and sometimes not. Objectivity in this context does not refer to inerrancy but to the description of whether the moral suggestion made can be independently reproduced and agreed with by at least two people, versus a subjective morality which would be incommunicable, which is often the case with implicit core beliefs about morality that people know not to say aloud, such as expecting people to take an hour or more prior to a reasonable arrival time at a destination so as to ensure they are not late, which is commonly felt but has no defense and cannot be set upon any algorithmic basis for independent agreement. There are multiple objective moral systems, so long as they are reducible to first principles and are expressible. I would argue as well, that there is some sort of universal morality, and that it would be best found by the comparative analysis of many moral systems to determine what between them is an aspect of the cognitive human instinct for fairness and cooperation. The aggregation of such an effort, would not immediately be a universal morality, but only evidence of one. Such a morality would also require a substantially greater flexibility to material circumstances than is often given by more rigid thinkers. This would make it a stronger, rather than a weaker, moral system, as it would provide instructions for more situations, and be flexible to the innovations of creative human thought.
  •   Argument for — Suppose the objective existence of a/the perfect God is proposed: then morality can be defined relative to God's "character": the closer aligned an action or being is to God, the more moral. This is an objective stance regardless of the subjective interpretations of said morality. Any argument for a particular God's existence hence implies moral objectivity's existence.

Arguments againstEdit

  •   Argument against — To answer this question, we must ask ourselves "what is morality?" It is, quite simply, a word. And like all words, it has no intrinsic meaning. So which definition of morality are we using when discussing it? Until this is known, then the answer to the question "is morality objective" is... it depends on how you define it. "Morality" is a human construction and as such it cannot be objectively anything.
  •   Argument against — Philosophers, religion reformers, and legal theorists have argued for millennia about what objective morality should be, but they haven't come to a conclusion yet.
    •   ObjectionProblem of induction! "This question has never been definitively answered in all of human history" was once true for every question that has been answered definitively by philosophy, logic, mathematics or science.
  •   Argument against — It is hard, if not impossible, to find any moral issue on which every culture agrees. If morality were objective, we could expect to have at least some basic agreement, like with basic chemistry. But we don't have such agreement, so morality must be subjective, or intersubjective, but in any case not objective.
    •   Objection — This argument aims to ground ethics in existing morals. All existing morals could be wrong. Other people defend that ethics is based on reason, independently of existing morals.
    •   Objection — Although there are differences in moral practice among cultures, that doesn't imply that there should be differences (see is–ought problem).
  •   Argument against — The matter of which is applied is always subjective. Any standard deemed objective, if applied to moral, would surely give rise to an objective moral standard. But surely other equally objective standards can be applied, so there is no single objective standard.
    •   Objection — If there is an objective set of moral rules, then no set of rules that contradicts said rules can be objective since such a set would be wrong. Any set of rules that complements said objective moral standard without contradicting it could just be included in that moral standard. Thus, if morality is objective, then there are no sets of objective rules that meaningfully differ from each other; there is simply one set of rules.
  •   Argument against — The question "Why should I act morally?" cannot be answered. If it is answered along the lines of "because it is the nature of morality" then you are justifying morality with morality, which is circular logic. It is like a law that says "you must adhere to the law". If I don't care about the law then I won't care about the law that tells me to adhere to the law. If it is answered with anything other than morality itself then that reason is a ulterior motive, and needing ulterior motives to act morally goes against the definition of morality.
    •   Objection — This doesn't actually answer the question. "Why should I act morally?" Is a different question from "what is moral?" Or "is morality objective" In the same vein (to use the stated analogy), "why should I follow the law?" Is a different question than "what is the law?" Or "is the law objective?" Notice, the first question does not have an answer, yet laws can be objective. Therefore, morality can be objective even if there is no reason to be moral.
  •   Argument against — Morality, as defined by humans, is meant to determine the goodness or badness of an action or intention. To consider if an action is good or bad objectively, then there must be some objective end-goal so that we can measure the extent to which this action pushes towards or away from it. Humans may have very similar end-goals baked into our biology related to species survival, but that does not constitute a universal end-goal. Even if someone were to make the claim that the universal end-goal is space expansion, or any other claim, there is no possible proof for these claims.
    •   Objection — If morality is objective then it is not defined by humans; this is a circular assumption of subjectivity that demonstrates itself. Additionally, the fact that we are not aware of a universal end-goal (or choose to reject well known alternatives, eg. on the basis of religious belief) does not disqualify the possibility that such a concept exists. Even if there is no available proof for such a goal's existence, nor is there for its falsehood.
  •   Argument against — Nothing is objective. We must first define a concept before we are able to observe it in the world. There is no single way to define a concept that does not exist until we define it.
    •   Objection — The claim that nothing is objective is unfalsifiable and not provable. However, the claim that objectivity is not real is in itself objective, showing itself to be paradoxical. Additionally, we define concepts based on our observations of the world, not vice versa as this statement claims. We define concepts so that they can be identified by the human race as they are observed in the world. Additionally, the assumption that humans define everything is circular, since if morality is objective and beyond human definition this would be nonsense.
  •   Argument against — For morality to be objective, it must by definition be true uniquely a priori. Knowledge of objective moral principles, if such knowledge can even be considered objective in itself, would necessarily result in the application of such objective moral principles in relation to experience in the external world, since the inherent purpose of morality is its application in actuality. By the examination of the consequences of its application, we can derive the objective moral principles from that experience. But this would inevitably render the objective moral principles subjective, in the sense that human understanding necessitates interpretation, and since deriving a principle a posteriori establishes the principle inherently and inescapably dependent on experience unknowable by reason alone, and therefore subject to human bias. Objective morality is objective only insofar as it exists independently of human understanding, and becomes subjective forthrightly as it is begun to be understood or grasped. But, the objective moral principle is still a priori unchanged, whereas its essence a posteriori goes fundamentally changed. Thus, objective morality fundamentally necessitates that identical moral principles can be simultaneously both subjective and objective. The law of noncontradiction prohibits this. Therefore, it is not logically possible for objective morality to exist.
    •   Objection — The conflation of the essence of a moral principle a posteriori (as understood by humans) and the principle itself a priori is invalid: an interpretation of an objective morality by a subjective person may be subjective, but it is also independent of that same morality. It is also a falsehood to claim that we can derive the objective moral principles from their application to the world, since this application is indeed of a subjective interpretation. Additionally, humans can and do go against their conceived definitions of morality, no matter how close they may be to the objective principles, and there are humans that are (should such a principle hold) objectively evil who do not see themselves as such. It is instead correct to assume that the degree to which objective moral principles is discernible is limited by the necessity of an objective source of revelation external to humanity (eg. a God).
  •   Argument against — Imagine I make up a concept, "blorg". Can science automatically denote how much "blorg" one thing has compared to another? Not without a definition of "blorg". Can science create a definition for "blorg"? No. If I make up a universal definition for "blorg", then science just comes after to apply that definition to situations. But science does not figure out what "blorg" is. Similarly, we need to decide what morality is before we can use math to apply morality to situations. If we decide what morality is, then it is not objective.
    •   Objection — The final statement of this argument is its very disproof: this argument assumes that the definition of morality is sourced from humans, which is not provable.

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. You can argue that this is to avoid things such as STD but this is not contextually reviewed. It doesn't say it is morally right as long as you avoid STD, the activity itself is defined as morally wrong.