Is Morality Objective or Subjective?

Whether morality is subjective or objective is a topic of much debate. Many people believe that the morals of a society are subjective and they are dependent on that society’s point of view at that time. However, others believe that morality is objective and are not dependent on what the society thinks at that time. I firmly believe that morality is objective. In order to understand why morality is objective we must first understand why believing morality is subjective should be considered wrong.

Subjective Morality

Believing that morality is subjective means that you believe the morals of a society are dependent on what a society believes to be moral. It’s the concept of morals being dependent on the culture that you live in. If we believe that morality is subjective then we have opened the door to allow any behavior or action to be morally acceptable as long as the society is convinced that it is. This is an extremely troubling belief. Believing morality is subjective would mean that slavery, the genocide of the Jewish people, and the raping of small children (something that is still practiced in certain African tribes) are/were all morally acceptable at one point. That is because at one point each of these actions were considered morally acceptable by the society. However, we now know that all of those actions are completely immoral.

Objective Morality

In order to avoid the idea that certain actions were morally acceptable at one point we must then believe that morality is objective and that an action’s morality is independent of what the society believes at that time. This allows us to believe that those actions were immoral then and now. Believing that morality is objective, however, does not mean that you have the answer to all of the moral dilemmas out there. It just means that you believe that there is a correct answer to the moral dilemma whether you know it yet or not. Also, if you believe that morality is subjective then there is no such thing as moral progression or regression. Moral progression and regression is when we either come closer to the correct moral action or we get further from it and it only exists if we believe that morality is objective. If morality is subjective then these attributes do not exist because the actions within that society are either moral or immoral and therefore no progress is ever made. A change of morals can still occur within a society if you believe in moral subjectivity, but the words progress or regress do not apply.

There are several different objective moral systems and there is much debate as to which one is the correct one. Each religion has an objective moral system which is found within their scriptures. For Christians and Jews, for example, their objective moral code is found within the Ten Commandments and within other scriptures which list the many other moral rules. However, it is still possible to have an objective moral system without affiliating yourself to a religion. Although there are several, there are two prominent objective moral systems with the most popularity. They are called Utilitarianism and Kantianism. A basic description of Utilitarianism is that the correct moral action is the action that creates the greatest amount of happiness or well-being while considering everyone involved equally. Utilitarianism also believes that the action involved should not be at the expense of another when not necessary. A basic description of Kantianism (A.K.A. deontology) is that the correct moral action is the action done with good will, or truly good intentions. Kantianism also states that there are certain actions that should never be done such as killing, lying, or stealing. Utilitarianism allows for such actions only in certain situations. I personally believe that Utilitarianism is the correct system and I will explain why in a future post.

As you can see, it would be very troubling to believe that morality is subjective. Morality is objective or, at the very least, it should be considered that way if we have any hope of a future utopian society.

Have any objections? Let me know in the comments section below!

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  1. theodore123211
    Oct 27, 2014 - 02:28 AM

    I’m not here to dispute the importance of morality to humanity, just to share my thoughts on how it can be perceived. But to me, claiming morality is objective is just ludicrous.

    First of, being utilitarian is HIGHLY subjective. It’s dependent on how happiness is collectively defined. For example we’ll find tribal rituals very strange and even unnecessary, but it makes the vast majority of their civilization happy, so does that therefore justify it through utilitarianism? Moreover, this isolated event happening in their village would have no relevance to our lives, therefore to claim it adversely affects our ‘happiness’ would be completely irrelevant because we’re not ‘involved’.

    Happiness is emotional. Emotion leads to subjectivity, and therefore utilitarianism can’t be objective.

    Secondly, if morality is apparently objective – impartial to personality, character, emotions, cultural factors, nurturing, etc – this would imply any new human being (new born) would be a blank, uninfluenced slate. But this would therefore mean him/her having to establish his/her own moral values and personal judgement. This paradox would stipulate that morality is then HIGHLY subjective because it would be dependent on each individuals point of view! (and collectively by the majority of societies point of view)
    Thirdly, according to you ‘an action’s morality is independent of what society believes at that time’, therefore a universally ‘correct’ morality would have to exist both in all of time and in all humans (‘…actions were immoral then and now’). The concept of moral progression (or regression) would also then be nonexistent because the perfect morality already exists; within each and every one of us (‘…there is a correct answer to the moral dilemma whether you know it yet or not.’) Is it an innate feature of all humans? Implying we have universal objectivity to morality as it is almost genetic and identical in all humans (conscious or subconscious)? Clearly that is not the case. Would it also imply that this part of us never evolves and is universal through time, as innate as swallowing and breathing?

    Consequently, objective morality won’t help us reach a utopian society. A ‘utopian’ society is impossible; everyone’s perfect is different so its therefore impossible for a utopian society to exist unless we’re once again, identical in every way.

    I firmly believe in individuality and autonomy. The only way to progress society is to instill autonomy in each member of society. Morality is subjective and objective, yet it is neither; it’s undefinable. But you can define it for yourself, and yourself only. Whether majority then takes charge in determining universal good/bad is another dilemma entirely…

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