Jump to content

The Question Of Objective/subjective Morality


Recommended Posts

Hi, all. :)

 

This subject, which I haven't thought about for a long while, recently popped up in a conversation with a friend. He assumes the existence of an "objective morality." I don't. He thus argues that my "subjective morality" allows me to do anything, which is also not true. It's as though he is seeing this as a completely binary question, which doesn't seem right to me. 

 

I tend to see individual morality as something that is derived from but not identical to collective morality. We are given specific "rules" of "moral" behavior from our culture, but we adjust those rules based on our education and experiences. 

 

Further, I tend to believe that--as painful as it might be--our actual moral code is defined by our actions, not what we say or think our morals are. 

 

The last point is probably going to get the most blowback, but that's ok; I'm not adverse to changing my mind on anything, given rational reasons to do so. I'm interested in your thoughts on these matters. 

 

d

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi, all. smile.png

 

This subject, which I haven't thought about for a long while, recently popped up in a conversation with a friend. He assumes the existence of an "objective morality." I don't. He thus argues that my "subjective morality" allows me to do anything, which is also not true.

 

So, do you have a long police record? smile.png Probably not. The whole argument of subjective vs objective morality is just a philosophical thing.

 

It's as though he is seeing this as a completely binary question, which doesn't seem right to me. 

 

Right, life has many exceptions and gray areas. Ask your friend if killing is ALWAYS wrong, then ask him about war. Or self defense. Or the death penalty. Or assisted suicide.

 

I tend to see individual morality as something that is derived from but not identical to collective morality.

We are given specific "rules" of "moral" behavior from our culture, but we adjust those rules based on our education and experiences. 

 

Right, our parents give us a foundation of morality, most of which is from society. We add some ideas of our own and toss out whatever ideas we deem unimportant.

 

Further, I tend to believe that--as painful as it might be--our actual moral code is defined by our actions, not what we say or think our morals are. 

 

Thoughts aren't crimes, thank goodness. As much as we would like to strangle people at times, 'something' prevents us from doing so. smile.png I was chastised by a fellow Christian once (long ago) for having the wrong attitude about why I dont commit crimes. I said I dont want to go to prison so I dont commit crimes. Oh my, what a horrible person I was. smile.png I guess the "correct answer" according to this friend was " don't commit crimes because it's wrong" . smile.png Silly me. Either way the effect is the same.

 

Why do the proponents of objective morality (often Christians) feel that people must have some deeply repressed need to go on some maniacal crime spree? Whether my morality is objective or subjective I just dont think that most people have an interest in being a psycho. smile.png 

 

Objective morality is a preoccupation of the religious. The meme that you can only be moral if you 'got Jesus' is utter baloney. Is your friend religious?

 

The last point is probably going to get the most blowback, but that's ok; I'm not adverse to changing my mind on anything, given rational reasons to do so. I'm interested in your thoughts on these matters. 

 

Morality is just how we are taught by our parents to behave. It isn't some 'thing' you tap into. smile.png If morality were a fact of life,  how do we explain why some people commit crimes? If morality were some supernatural shield against bad behavior provided by God only to those who believe,  why do believers still commit crimes? 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Excellent questions, midniterider. I shall respond when I'm not drinking. (My father is...failing and I decided tonight was the right time to have some wine.)

 

I shall return. 

 

d

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So, do you have a long police record? Probably not. The whole argument of subjective vs objective morality is just a philosophical thing.

 

Terrific response. :)

 

I don't think he's arguing that I have no morals, though. He seems to believe that we all have an objective morality, even if we don't recognize it. 

 

life has many exceptions and gray areas. Ask your friend if killing is ALWAYS wrong, then ask him about war. Or self defense. Or the death penalty. Or assisted suicide.

 

I think he'd respond that murder is always wrong. I think that's a mere side-step, though, because we tend to define "murder" in different ways, which is our way of teasing out the nuances of when we believe killing is and isn't a morally-defensible action. 

 

Right, our parents give us a foundation of morality, most of which is from society. We add some ideas of our own and toss out whatever ideas we deem unimportant.

 

It's strange to me how people can deny we all do this. 

 

Thoughts aren't crimes, thank goodness. As much as we would like to strangle people at times, 'something' prevents us from doing so.  I was chastised by a fellow Christian once (long ago) for having the wrong attitude about why I dont commit crimes. I said I dont want to go to prison so I dont commit crimes. Oh my, what a horrible person I was. I guess the "correct answer" according to this friend was " don't commit crimes because it's wrong" .  Silly me. Either way the effect is the same.

 

Seems fair. :) I think I would respond that I don't commit crimes because I have no necessity to do so (like, starving so I steal a loaf of bread) and because I simply have no desire to do things that bring more pain and stress to my life and to the lives of those around me. 

 

Why do the proponents of objective morality (often Christians) feel that people must have some deeply repressed need to go on some maniacal crime spree? Whether my morality is objective or subjective I just dont think that most people have an interest in being a psycho.  

 

Funny you should mention it, but I just had this conversation with another friend recently. She told me that without God, there would be no brakes on her bad behavior. I asked her what her basis for comparison was, which would be the only way she would know. That question, of course, was sidestepped. ;) (The unbelievers/questioners I know would and often do say that they are better people without religion--and most of them have a basis for comparison.)

 

Objective morality is a preoccupation of the religious. The meme that you can only be moral if you 'got Jesus' is utter baloney. Is your friend religious?

 

Yeah. I learned yesterday (?) that he is also a YEC who believes in a worldwide flood, too, so...he's a little more out there where the buses don't run and the fairies don't visit than I originally thought. 

 

Morality is just how we are taught by our parents to behave. It isn't some 'thing' you tap into.  If morality were a fact of life,  how do we explain why some people commit crimes? If morality were some supernatural shield against bad behavior provided by God only to those who believe, why do believers still commit crimes? 

 

I think he considers "morality" to be the code we all have that we strive to live up to. 

 

This is where the whole conversation can get rather sticky. I think we all have different forms of "morality" all competing for precedence in our lives. There's the morality society gives us and judges us by (and tries to teach us to feel guilty if we don't acquiesce to it); there's the morality we hope to live up to ourselves; then there's the morality that we actually live. The three get hopelessly confused, probably because most people see morality as either a single thing each person/culture has or an objective reality (again--a single thing) we derive from the mind of the Creator. Those who believe their morality derives from God tend to embrace the notion of the objective morality, and they judge themselves and everyone else based on the morality they believe God has passed on through the bible. 

 

I've responded to such believers with the observation that if there is an objective morality and God is the same now and forever, then why was genocide acceptable--even required--in the Jewish scriptures? If morality is in fact objective as they claim, they must have no problem with genocide (and lots of other nasty stuff). 

 

Strangely, they wiggle out of that one somehow, too. *sigh*

 

d

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

I've responded to such believers with the observation that if there is an objective morality and God is the same now and forever, then why was genocide acceptable--even required--in the Jewish scriptures? If morality is in fact objective as they claim, they must have no problem with genocide (and lots of other nasty stuff). 

 

Strangely, they wiggle out of that one somehow, too. *sigh*

 

Therein lies the problem. Christian morality is itself highly subjective, even though they won't allow themselves to admit it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One of the "objective" morals from the Abrahamic god is, 'Do as I say, not as I do.'  That overrides much of nonsense, contradictions, etc. found in the Abrahamic religious writings.  It's a get out of jail free card for apologists.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Super Moderator

I would have to agree that all morality is subjective. That's why things deemed moral or immoral have constantly changed according to time and place.

 

Suicide bombing is quite the moral thing to do for a devout Muslim. Capital punishment is okey-dokey with Christian fundies who seem to forget the 'turn the other cheek' admonition in their Bible. Calling an action a 'war' justifies murder for almost everyone. 

 

There is little agreement on a definition of morality just as there is little agreement on the nature of gods; we ourselves invent both concepts and all have different ideas.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have a less than sympathetic view of morality as a concept.

From where I'm standing, it is artificial.

It seems, at best, the set of rules that a society grows by a sort of pseudo-organic process thereby allowing the majority to enforce conformity. Survival is part of the equation. Power is also an element.

There is no absolute, objective moral rule that says killing children is wrong. Just ask (were it possible) those in ancient (or even not so ancient) societies who would habitually expose unwanted children - or, for that matter, the god of the old testament that wanted entire peoples wiped out. There is no absolute, objective rule that says killing the elderly or infirm is wrong. Indeed, in a small social group living a marginal lifestyle an accepted method of removing them or leaving them behind might be necessary to the wellbeing of the group as a whole. In a society that has come to place value on the continuation of life, the moral imperative may well be to avoid death at all costs and to participate in rescue parties when someone is in trouble; in a society that values death, self sacrifice in conflict whilst taking as many others with you as possible may be the honoured course.

Which is why I reject morality as a meaningful concept. It seems to me to mean whatever a given society, or part of society, deems it to mean at any given point. I'd rather just accept that my actions have consequences and that I am responsible for those consequences. As long as I am happy with the effect of what I do, whether I am viewed as moral or whether I conform to a social norm is utterly irrelevant.

Potentially a rather nihilistic, even anarchic viewpoint, I suppose...

 

I accept that philosophers have argued over ethics for millennia, presumably thereby indicating a position that moral codes have some value, and the concept of objective morality is an obvious - though whether inevitable is another matter - viewpoint for those who postulate a morally superior autocratic deity.

 

But quite how the moral absolutist then excuses the excesses of his or her genocidal deity is quite beyond me.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have a less than sympathetic view of morality as a concept.

 

From where I'm standing, it is artificial.

 

It seems, at best, the set of rules that a society grows by a sort of pseudo-organic process thereby allowing the majority to enforce conformity. Survival is part of the equation. Power is also an element.

 

There is no absolute, objective moral rule that says killing children is wrong. Just ask (were it possible) those in ancient (or even not so ancient) societies who would habitually expose unwanted children - or, for that matter, the god of the old testament that wanted entire peoples wiped out. There is no absolute, objective rule that says killing the elderly or infirm is wrong. Indeed, in a small social group living a marginal lifestyle an accepted method of removing them or leaving them behind might be necessary to the wellbeing of the group as a whole. In a society that has come to place value on the continuation of life, the moral imperative may well be to avoid death at all costs and to participate in rescue parties when someone is in trouble; in a society that values death, self sacrifice in conflict whilst taking as many others with you as possible may be the honoured course.

 

Which is why I reject morality as a meaningful concept. It seems to me to mean whatever a given society, or part of society, deems it to mean at any given point. I'd rather just accept that my actions have consequences and that I am responsible for those consequences. As long as I am happy with the effect of what I do, whether I am viewed as moral or whether I conform to a social norm is utterly irrelevant.

 

Potentially a rather nihilistic, even anarchic viewpoint, I suppose...

 

I accept that philosophers have argued over ethics for millennia, presumably thereby indicating a position that moral codes have some value, and the concept of objective morality is an obvious - though whether inevitable is another matter - viewpoint for those who postulate a morally superior autocratic deity.

 

But quite how the moral absolutist then excuses the excesses of his or her genocidal deity is quite beyond me.

this. I could never put it so concisely, but this.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Morality is a weathervane. It's a dynamic indicator of right and wrong based on cultural and social influences and individual circumstance.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Some Christians seem to be moving away from absolutism and more towards consequentialism. It's less thou shalt not steal and more thou shalt not steal (unless stealing has positive consequences). The Biblical God's violation of moral principles (genocide, slavery) proves that the Bible is a utilitarian manifesto. We have every right to kill, torture, enslave, steal, destroy, and lie if those actions alleviate more suffering than they cause. What is your opinion of these Christians compared to the absolutist Christians who believe that it's wrong for humans to do those things for any reason (even a benevolent reason)  but right for God because he does not have to abide by moral principles?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Agree with most of what's being written here. I always ask xtians who argue for an objective morality if they believe everything their parents do / did. If they're honest, they have to say "no". I than ask what caused them to change their minds, for example on gay marriage or being wealthy, when their parents very clearly thought the Bible taught otherwise. They always say something like "we interpret it differently" and then I simply end the conversation by asking how morality can be "objective" when they are subjectively changing it?!

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Agree with most of what's being written here. I always ask xtians who argue for an objective morality if they believe everything their parents do / did. If they're honest, they have to say "no". I than ask what caused them to change their minds, for example on gay marriage or being wealthy, when their parents very clearly thought the Bible taught otherwise. They always say something like "we interpret it differently" and then I simply end the conversation by asking how morality can be "objective" when they are subjectively changing it?!

 

 

I've found a question that stumps Objective Moralists - "Please identify one objective moral, with the definition of "objective moral" being an action or inaction which must be undertaken in all situations - no exceptions."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I do think there is some objectivity to morality, in the sense that actions have real consequences and you can measure whether or not your action result in the desired consequences. Which puts me quite at odds with some christians, who think that the whole point is to enforce their god's rules, consequences and harm to others be damned. (Of course they believe that if everyone followed their rules we'd all be happy, therefore it's everyone's fault but theirs when their moralizing causes harm.)

 

The part that's subjective is what the desired outcomes are. I, informed by modern western society, tend to want peace and autonomy for all humans on the planet, pleasant as possible lives for non-human sentient things, and to maintain bio-diversity for the non-human-non-sentient living things (mostly because it will benefit the sentient things like us and make sure our descendants far into the future have plenty to eat). But I'm wealthy enough to have the luxury of caring about all those other living things, since I and those I care most about are unlikely to ever be short on food and shelter. Poorer societies will place more value on providing resources for the in-group, even if that means taking it away from other groups of humans. Some societies place a high value on maintaining order in the social structure. Others value "honor" and "saving face" (I've heard stories that other cultures honestly don't believe that cheating is wrong; getting caught may be shameful to you and your family, but there's nothing inherently wrong with doing your best to get ahead or to help your children succeed).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If Jesus were God, the universe is fucked. So many people would be weeping and gnashing teeth for eternity, but Jesus is more important than us.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Diana, good topic. Christians, and other monotheists, like to claim a monopoly on morality, as though you can’t be moral unless you are part of their religion. They fail to recognise that all religions took their morality from humanism. This is why what was considered moral in the Bible is barbaric today, morality moves with the human species. Christians are backed into a corner because it’s extremely difficult to try and defend iron age morality in a modern society. I’ve written a short article about morality if you’re interested:

 

https://thoughtcontrol.wordpress.com/various-musings/a-question-of-morality/

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Guidelines.