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?

Definitions[edit | edit source]

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'. 'Subject' is intertwined with the subject while 'object' is independent of it.

  • Morality is defined as "a doctrine or system of moral conduct".[1]
  • Moral is defined as "relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior".[2]
  • Objective is defined as "relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers; having reality independent of the mind".[3]

Morality is objective[edit | edit source]

Arguments for[edit | edit source]

  • 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, thus, morality is not objective.
      • Objection Just because you think you are a rat doesn't make you one, human psychology is objective for that reason
    • Objection That does not explain why assessment of morality varies between cultures and subcultures. Since, "based on human psychology" sounds as if morality is innate, and it is unclear what else is that supposed to mean. And furthermore, if morality is innate, it is possibly as much subject of variation as color of the eyes. Thus, the above argument has almost no force.
  • 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, objective or subjective. It would be needed 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. For example, else a lot of arbitrary daily activities would be deemed immoral, like working at a job you are 'unhappy' at. Or, sexual activities are pleasurable to most people but yet deemed immoral in a lot of religions outside certain context.[4]
  • 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.
    • Objection Even if we suppose the existence of a God, all morality would be the subjective opinion of that God. You would still be left with the following question: Why is it moral to follow God’s nature?

Arguments against[edit | edit source]

  • 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.
    • Objection This argument entails the Problem 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).
    • Objection Cultures do not agree that God does not exist, and yet he objectively does not. For very long time, those who correctly determined God not to exist were a minority. Whether cultures agree on something or not has little bearing on objective reality.
  • 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 saying "The law must be obeyed". If someone don't care about the law then they won't care about the law that tells people 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?", it 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.
    • Objection 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.
    • Objection As for "there is no possible proof for these claims": the question is whether morality is objective, meaning whether it objectively exists, not whether it can be known or proven to be such and such.
  • 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. 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.
    • 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.
    • Objection We define concepts based on our observations of the world, not vice versa as "Nothing is objective" claims. We define concepts so that they can be identified by the human race as they are observed in the world.
    • 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.
    • Objection It is 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.
  • 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.
  • Argument against According to definitions given above, the statement "Morality is objective," may be restated as "There exists a set of principles of right and wrong behavior which is independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers". If such a set of principles exists, that set is perceptible to all of this debate's participants. No such set is observed by all participants; thus the affirmative position is that a set of principles of right and wrong exists and is perceptible to all observers but is not perceived by all observers. If this set of principles has never yet been perceived, that set can not be differentiated empirically from a set that is nonexistent. If this set of principles has been perceived by an observer, that observer need only to present the set to others in order to prove the affirmative (by definition, the set of principles of right and wrong will be perceptible to any new observer and their correctness independent of the observer's thought). No such set has been presented.
    • Objection Such sets have been presented by observers. When these sets are under debate, often the debate does not focus on whether the guiding principles are right or wrong but on how the guiding principles apply to a given situation. For example, the question, "is it wrong for a starving child to steal expired food from a store that is out of business?" may be debated from many different angles and different people may arrive at many different conclusions, but the debaters would likely all agree on certain principles (children starving is bad, stealing is wrong, expired food is less valuable, out-of-business stores are less capable of experiencing the loss caused by stealing) and the debate would center around which of these moral principles should weigh more heavily in this situation.
    • Objection This argument makes the assumption that the "set of principles...is...perceptible by all observers" and argues that because no such set of principles exists, there is no morality. However, the premise that a set of principles is always equally perceptible to all observers is not required by objective morality. In the same way that gravity always exists but will be more tangible experienced by someone on the ground than someone floating through space, if objective morality exists, it may not necessarily be equally clearly perceptible to all observers at all times.

Morality is semi-objective[edit | edit source]

Arguments for[edit | edit source]

  • 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 -this is often the case with implicit core beliefs about morality that people know not to say aloud-. There are multiple objective moral systems, so long as they are reducible to first principles and are expressible.

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes and references[edit | edit source]

  1. "Definition of MORALITY". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2022-09-25.
  2. "Definition of MORAL". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2022-09-25.
  3. "Definition of OBJECTIVE". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2022-09-25.
  4. 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.