In objective reality we are all sharing the same physical world, thus our actions affect other real beings, laying some grounds for morality, at the very least the "do onto others" and its invert.

But if reality is subjective, and purely a construct of a central to it consciousness with no common objective physical manifestation, that appears to render morality obsolete.

For example, in the context of murder:

  • if I am central and define this reality, then murder will be a crime against a figment of my imagination, and therefore will not matter

  • if I am a product of someone else's reality, I am just a figment of that consciousness' imagination, therefore I don't have control over my actions and bear no responsibility for murdering anyone, including the central person

  • solipsism or not, even if "the extras" are real people, my actions will only affect them in my reality, and not in theirs, so no violation against another consciousness takes place, and a violation against someone else can only take place if they themselves manifest it in their subjective reality

So how and why would one have morality in a subjective reality?


4 Answers 4


Morality is perfectly possible in a 'subjective idealistic reality' if subjective idealism is the view that all that exists is the - a single - knowing or experiencing subject. Morality is commonly taken to be interpersonal but it can be and is intrapersonal as well. If I exist as the only knowing or experiencing subject, I can still have duties to myself - Kant's Pflicht genen sich (selbst).

Not that the point depends on Kant who in any case was not a subjective idealist. But I could as the only knowing or experiencing subject recognise a duty not to deceive myself about my own states of mind or emotions and in general acknowledge a duty, a self-imposed one, to maximise my capacities for self-knowledge - a duty of self-improvement.

In brief, whenever there is on the common understanding of morality a duty to oneself, one could still have that duty as the only knowing or experiencing subject.

Against the objection that the notion of 'duties to oneself' does not make sense, all the above claims can be re-stated in the language of moral self-improvement.

Again, someone might argue that to think in moral terms one needs a public language, which a sole knowing or experiencing subject could not have. But insofar as this resonse depends on Wittgenstein's anti-private language argument the objection is only as strong or as weak as that less than decisive if ingenious argument.

Someone again might argue that self-consciousness, which my argument assumes, depends on interpersonal experience. Self needs non-self or other self for the idea of one's own self to be possible. But this is no decisive objection : the 'Self needs non-self or other self' argument is precisely that - an argument to be assessed, not a philosophical datum.


Consequences don't have to be objectively based in order to matter. To pretend you are forgiven because some objective criterion is met, including the objective lack of objective judgement, is inauthentic in the Existentialist sense. They same way the refusal to act is a course of action, the refusal to be moral is a moral position, and the consequences for the holder of such a position are still very real.

Subjectivity does not eliminate psychology. Murder is hard on people -- both the people around the victim and the murderer. You can disclaim this, but you cannot escape it. Child soldiers who are raised into an addiction to killing still suffer PTSD. Psychopaths who do not appear to have guilt still suffer psychologically from others' disdain. None of us are truly amoral, when we accept our own reactions. Whether that morality comes back at us from inside or outside our personality, it does come back.

Whatever subjective force has shaped our reactions, those reactions are still real. If the world is yours, you are free to create suffering for yourself, but it is still not wise.

  • The point is whether the "reality" is real or imaginary. If it is imaginary, then so is the crime, so it is the violation of morality. As I mentioned already, it would be no worse than writing a story in which a murder takes place. It doesn't have any direct effect on "real" reality.
    – dtech
    Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 0:21
  • @dtech From an existentialist point of view it cannot possibly matter whether the reality is 'real' or not. What matters is the experience, which would the same either way, and the rest is a set of sophisticated attempts to refuse to be honest with oneself. If there is no objectivity, then that fact itself cannot be objective and arguing from it is just nonsense. If there is objectivity no one should care because it ultimately doesn't have meaning, as it is not an experience, only a source of experiences.
    – user9166
    Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 10:10

I think it's clear that there is a strong how and why NOT to have morality given solipsism or one of the other kinds of subjective reality. In fact, it seems a strong thesis that believing in this kind of reality is a rational basis for denying morality.

On the flip side, since such subjective realities support such non-moral action, it seems that any strong beliefs about morality would support belief in objective reality, that is, the objective existence of other persons like ourselves. If you think morality is important, then it is difficult to justify solipsism.

  • Not really, morality can be our inner property. Inner property of non-real minds.
    – rus9384
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 16:50
  • @rus9384 you can also have an inner belief in the flying spaghetti monster. The question is why would you. What prompts the necessity for that belief, what are its implications and effects on reality. In a subjective reality murder isn't any worse than writing a story in which someone commits a murder. Certainly not immoral IMO.
    – dtech
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 16:55
  • Also, on solipsism, you are one messed-up solipsist: bloodthirsty Aztec gods, the Spanish conquest of Latin America, Rome, Ghengis Khan, Pol Pot.... I wouldn't want to be a solipsist, given history. Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 18:34
  • @elliotsvensson, I proposed that creator of our world just can be a mortal from our world (yes, resulting in causal loop). But then all things they did can be seen aa necessity for existence itself. Not sure if is vetter than solipsism.
    – rus9384
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 21:48

In subjective idealistic reality, morality may exist. One of the classical ways in which morality may be understood in a subjective reality is based on doctrine of ignorance and illusion (refer Advaita Vedanta). All actions that are reaffirmation of illusion and ignorance are immoral and all actions that are taken in light of knowledge may be classified as moral.

Because actions like murder are based primarily on assumption of duality of the observer and the observed,they will still be immoral. For e.g., the motivation for murder may be hate which may result from a feeling of being cheated upon by another person. However, if either the cheater or the cheated is a figment of imagination, then murdering someone based on that is reaffirmation of illusion and falsity.

Note - In Advaita Vedanta, morality, at the highest level of reality is assumed to be illusion. However, it can be argued to exist based on the above mentioned criterion.

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