2

I tend to believe that morality isn't all subjective. Society objectifies morality and keep a distinction between good and bad.

So even if a person felt (subjective) what he was doing was right, that wouldn't, by societal standards(objective), be considered right.

Say, beauty is subjective. I agree. But when it comes to overall preference a certain is most preferred over the other. What is most considered beautiful. Doesn't this imply an objective nature behind subjective cases. A reasonable norm.

10
  • 1
    Hello and welcome to Philosophy SE. Please take time to read through the Help section, and in particular the pages on what are good questions and what kind of posts should be avoided. This post of yours is not really a question, since you begin it with "I tend to believe that morality isn't all subjective". This is specifically a kind of post that is not suitable for the Q&A style of Philosophy SE. Voting To Close for that reason.
    – MichaelK
    Jun 11, 2018 at 6:52
  • 1
    How about helping @Hittfler reformulate his question rather than appealing to blatant deletionism (i.e. censorship), @MichaelK? Jun 11, 2018 at 10:34
  • 3
    @AndréLevy Censorship is an act by the government, demanding pre-screening of a message/expression before it is made available to the public. This is not a government operated site; it is a privately operated site that has a code of conduct that we — as we signed up for it — agreed to follow. Also this is not an action taken pre-emptively but after the fact that the post does not follow the code of conduct. And lastly: you are more than welcome to tell Hittfler about how this post can be improved to fit the rules of this site. Go right ahead, I am sure they will be delighted to hear. :)
    – MichaelK
    Jun 11, 2018 at 10:39
  • 1
    I already did, @MichaelK, in my answer below. And you're wrong about censorship: "Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or "inconvenient" as determined by government authorities or by community consensus. Governments and private organizations may engage in censorship." (Wikipedia) Jun 11, 2018 at 10:55
  • 1
    @AndréLevy By that — incredibly wide — definition, any and all rules on an internet forum is "censorship". So when you use that diluted definition of the word, the proper response to your comment then becomes "Yes, it is censorship. So [expletive] what?". Do not expect words to maintain their weight and impact when you widen the definition to try to cash in on that weight and impact in other situations. "Censorship" is a relevant and meaningful term when it is used by the government to pre-approve/pre-suppress expression. As for the wider definition: relevant xkcd.
    – MichaelK
    Jun 11, 2018 at 11:07

6 Answers 6

12

So even if a person felt (subjective) what he was doing was right, that wouldn't, by societal standards(objective), be considered right.

That's not what those terms — subjective and objective — mean. Subjective does not necessarily mean related to feeling; it simply means that it varies from person to person (subiectum is Latin for the agent in a sentence). To say that a morality is subjective is to say that it varies from person to person, that it cannot be referred to without reference to an individual (or set of individuals). It means to say that there is no morality outside of the individual (or set of individuals). Thus, societal standards are also subjective.

To say that something is objective, on the other hand, means that it doesn't depend on any observers to exist; only the object. If we say that gravity, for instance, is objective, then we mean that it would continue to exist even after all persons were extinct, as it existed before the first person was ever born. To say that morality is objective is to say that it exists independent of there being persons in the universe (I keep using 'persons', rather than 'people', to emphasise the requirement of agency). Those who believe morality is objective do not believe true morality is constituted by societal standards, but rather by non-human standards, be they natural or divine. Theists believe morality is as eternal as God Itself, as God and morality are, in a sense, indistinguishable, and have existed before God created people. Atheists who believe in objective morality, on the other hand, believe that morality has a material existence, is innate to human beings (along with not so moral drives and instincts), which have been naturally selected by evolution.

In spite of the apparent contradiction, though, objective and subjective morality are not really mutually exclusive. To say that morality is subjective, that it varies from person to person, does not preclude it from existing objectively in each person. So, atheist moral objectivists may be right in saying that our morality is hardwired in us — and even softwired in neurological synapses in our brain — but that doesn't mean it's not subjective. It may still be as subjective as knowledge and temperament.

The resolution — or rather dissolution — of this apparent contradiction is akin to what Kant did in epistemology, in resolving the apparent contradiction at the time between rationalists and empiricists (and that's as much as I'm going to say about that here).

19
  • 2
    +1. Nice answer.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jun 11, 2018 at 8:14
  • 1
    Nice answer! But this leaves me with a question: if morality is determined a divine being, wouldn't that then also make it subjective, since it then also refers to a being?
    – Bram28
    Jun 12, 2018 at 2:32
  • Only if you regard that divine being as a person, @Bram28, which is typically not the case in monotheistic religions. These make a clear separation between God, as the standard of morality, and humans, as fallible, and therefore free to be moral or immoral (see, God cannot be immoral, for It is morality itself). In that sense, God is not a person, literally not a subject (as being a person is being subject to God). Jun 12, 2018 at 4:09
  • Polytheistic religions (and mythologies) are sort of a hybrid case, in which gods represent, not a standard of morality, but rather human passions and archetypes. But there too, gods are not persons, as they have no agency between being moral or immoral, but rather only act to fulfil their archetypical character. Jun 12, 2018 at 4:09
  • @AndréLevy ... first, i like your answer. second, i have to ask about your meaning for "objective". i the the author of the question is using a perfectly good sense of it in saying that objectivity and the sort of objectiveness (ie mind-independence) you define here are not the same thing. we can't conflate objective to mind-independence. clearly we have a use of the term "objective opinion", and especially in the philosophical use of the term "perfectly rational person" as the measure of objectivity. Jun 12, 2018 at 13:58
2

What is true to one is false to another (Shobogenzo by Dogen).

Given that moralit(ies) among various cultures and civilizations were and are different, they are subject to the in-groups concerned and no one else.

Regulating morality is a completely different issue, and is a sign of arrogance - in fact most good laws are found by observing excesses and moderating them in the long run so that a collective good may be reached.

It is a strictly Western concept that morality is universal, and it concerns precisely the ideas that Western Christiian civilization developed.

If I prefer to be moral in a pagan Roman way, and that morality is defined by ethos and virtues that were most important in this civilizational context it is different from morality of the Christians, and different from morality of Hindis or Jews and Arabs.

In fact, morality is both subjective, and inter-subjective, it is construed by broader cultural context. Would you claim that 'morality' of the Head-Hunters of Sarawak was deficient? Or that such concepts did not apply to cannibals? We could apply reverse-conceptualization but it would be pointless at most.

Anthropologically speaking, morality is developed from "clean and unclean" that developed into "allowed and taboo".

There is another issue which are claims to metaphysics that concerns theology, but according to Iamblich and other ancient writers all theology is made by human beings to approximate the Divine worlds.

There was never a codex of morality given in this sense by some Providence, unless you are a believe in one of the 'revealed' religions, that is contestable on reasonable grounds.

What follows is that you can be moral on your moral grounds and you can't demand it of someone else.

Societal standards are not objective, they are constructed (sociology of knowledge, and constructivism school), thus they are inter-subjectively negotiated over time and space and contain invisible 'contracts' of what is allowed and what is not, codified by law as attempting to stabilize collective and individual cases of experiences.

Beauty is a case of aesthetics and the frames of reference changed for it over time too. Although, as a neo-platonist I believe in a transcendent idea of Beauty, I may not quarrel over the aesthetical sensitivities of others.

1
  • 1
    Now THAT! is a truly good answer. Try grasping the point here and re-think the impossibility of any generalized universally applicable moral code. The only necessary moral coda is born within the mature and responsible human individual of whom there are literally billions on this planet. Searching for generalized abstractions which apply to everyone is a waste of valuable time!
    – user37981
    Aug 22, 2020 at 10:05
1

Ironically, with your question, you kind of just defined subjective morality.

Relativism, roughly put, is the view that truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning, and procedures of justification are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them. -Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Subjective morality is the idea that there is no single right and wrong morality, but the idea that morality can vary based on factors like genetics, your environment, or which society you live in.

Researchers found that while parents can help encourage their children to develop into responsible, conscientious adults, there is an underlying genetic factor that influences these traits, as well. -Some personal beliefs and morals may stem from genetics, Scientific Study from Penn State, 02.25.201

Yes, societies objectify morality, but we have had various different societies throughout history with different senses of right and wrong, with various cultures/subcultures differing on certain issues of morality.

For example, take the concept of 'wasta' in many Middle Eastern cultures. It is the idea in many Middle Eastern nations that jobs and favors should be given based on who your know and how close your personal connection is to another person. What makes it different from nepotism is the people following wasta see this practice as better because it allows you to hire someone or give them better treatment based on their character as well as their willingness to help you in dark times, instead of hiring a complete stranger based on credentials that may not mean all that much. Compare this to many Western nations where "merit above all" is ideal and something like wasta would be seen as nothing more than families/friends amassing power for themselves. In these two different societies, you have two opposing and different moral standards for hiring people and offering jobs that a moral relativist would see as both being equally valid, while a moral absolutist would say there is only one correct way to offer someone a favor/job & that one of these methods should be seen as inherently morally wrong for all mankind, no matter what civilization you live in. The only exception to that might be a group that is amoral and thus has no morality, moral hypocrites who might claim to follow a moral code before doing something that goes against the code they claim to follow, or moral absolutists:

Moral Absolutism: Some actions are morally wrong for any agent no matter what motivations and desires they have. -Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

A moral absolutist doesn't believe that morality is objective based on your society, but believes that there is a universal morality all humans need to follow and that some other societies are objectively wrong for having different believes, period. You can see such thinking in the conquistadors from Spain when they eliminated 'primitive' Native American cultures for having different moral beliefs and principles, any religious war where one side believes they follow the 'real' morality of God and should eliminate those who disagree, or many authoritarians that conquer others to force their beliefs onto differing societies.

The North Sentinelese, just like many tribalistic cultures of the past, have a morality based around killing outsiders. While we consider this wrong, we accept that they have a different belief system based on their culture and leave them be. A moral absolutist would believe that their culture doesn't justify these people doing this and they should be taken to task for going against our universal sense of morality. People have different moral ideas based on what religion they follow or what branch of a religion they follow, but a moral absolutist would believe there is only one correct religion/religious belief and those who don't follow it are 'bad'.

tl;dr: Morality can be subjective while being established as partially 'objective' based on the culture and society they live in. A moral objectivist/absolutist believes all humans should inherently have a single, unifying morality with many seeing those who don't agree with this universal morality as evil and possibly fit to be terminated, with society and culture being 'no excuse' for this different belief system.

0

Morality is subjective and objective.

The two basis of morality is sentiment and reason. That people generally feel the same, given common experience, and that people reason in the same way though the quality of reasoning may differ, creates conditions where moral agreements are possible. That some have commandeered the word "objective" (say many Christian apologists; Craig, for instance) and conflated it to "mind-independence" doesn't entail that objectivity hinges only on the existence of gods, rather than goals.

That we can completely and arbitrarily set a goal absolutely begins to make the case those like Craig desire, but it defeats their further premises and conclusions. That is, moral judgment is at steak and "Why do we or should we have this particular goal?" isn't the same question as "Does this behavior help or hinder obtaining this particular goal?" The latter doesn't entail standards at all! The former does, but defeating its importance is by acknowledging moral judgment is required to do so, and that basis is always human rather than divine; judgment is predicate and has primacy. "Do we like our moral goals?" is the functionally equivalent question to whether or not we should have the goals we have; not whether or not there are gods that like them. How would we know they do or don't objectively and why would entirely subjective goals prevent us from objective moral judgments? (That's perhaps an aside; as morality is a social engagement and hence its goals defined by a group, we have objectivity in response to both questions either way)

The subjective/objective distinction is largely irrelevant. We in fact have group-relative goals and that anyone should suggest, free from the mandates of deity. We can give up entirely on trying to suss out why some goal exists in order to simply conclude, or rather judge, that some activities are more amenable to obtaining some given, well-defined goal than others. Whether human morality entails dependent or contingent origins for its goals, we in practice only care about our ability to judge behaviors objectively; and at least in theory if nothing else, we can and do.

0

By definition what we value is subjective as values are subjective. That means how one lives their life, at bottom, cannot be said to be objectively better than someone else’s way of life. No matter how heinous the person, they could turn around and say how much more virtuous they are than you. That is unless you believe in moral absolutes or an objective morality. Someone could say their unconscionable and evil actions are good to them because it brings them pleasure and happiness and are therefore good. This seems abhorrent to people who do not cause harm intentionally to others but the argument against moral absolutism is sound.

Evil or badness is the privation of goodness.

All goodness can be seen as bad and vice versa. This is moral relativism.

Each of us have our own moral system and what constitutes wrong or evil will vary subjectively between individuals. No individual human can see everything as evil or good (although there could be hypothetical human who could, someone with heavy mutations and a very different physiology). This is just how we evolved. We feel pleasure and pain, which are manifestations of good and evil. We have no choice about that. Everybody has the capacity to experience suffering, no matter how evil the person is. And everybody has the capacity to experience goodness or pleasure, again no matter how evil the person. However every individual action can be seen as either or both good and evil to different degrees.

In some sense everything can be seen as evil through the idea of suffering. For example, someone could see everything as evil because life is suffering, and all things that are good aren’t really good, they are just prolonging one’s suffering. Why counsel me, feed me, entertain me, help me, when all you’re doing is extending my suffering, mentally and physically. Mentally I’m being caused pain because I have to concentrate and pretend I care about what you’re doing for me. This is an increase in my suffering and therefore evil in the world. This type of person is only theoretical as as far as we know all humans can experience some pleasure or goodness no matter how dire the situation.

So why can evil lead to a good outcome? Does that make evil also good if it brings about something good? No, I don’t believe so. Mainly for the reason that suffering does not bring about pleasure, except when we do things like struggle through tough circumstances and become better people and become more happy. But the suffering itself is still evil. Evil cannot be good just because it came before happiness. A caused B but A is not identical to B. Eg hot weather causes you to sweat but hot weather is not sweat. However one could argue from a certain perspective that all suffering is good, but ill touch on that later.

There may be then some things where suffering is required to maximise your happiness or goodness. But this doesn’t detract from the point that suffering and pain is still evil. On some sense to have any appreciation for goodness you need evil and vice versa. To try to live a life absent of any exposure to pain and suffering or evil will be quite dull and you wouldn’t be reaching your potential.

Pleasure is more or less what is determined as good. There are some things that are intensely good but have damaging consequences (eg drugs), so that makes them less good, to a point where they do no or little good at all for you. In the simplistic sense then only evil is suffering or pain, psychological or physical, and only good is pleasurable.

Suffering or pain and pleasure are sensations not emotions, although many emotions come with each of the categories. And since this is different for every individual, morality must be subjective. What about someone who’s sent to jail for the good of the community for a crime they committed. That causes suffering for the incarcerated individual but reduces the suffering or potential suffering of the community. So what we try to do in our lives is minimise suffering and maximise goodness. Or minimize suffering and maximise pleasure. We evolved to go towards pleasure and away from pain, because that increases our chance of surviving. But without knowing deep pain we cannot know sublime goodness and happiness. And this varies for every individual.

So what would a society look like that eliminated all suffering, or we somehow evolved a way to not feel things as intensely, were that even possible? People wouldn’t feel things as deeply. The highs and lows would be truncated. Art wouldn’t be so beautiful to us or neither would our relationships with others, and so on. So maybe there would be less overall suffering or happiness but maybe they would somewhat cancel each other out, just as they do now. The only thing is for sure and that’s that there would be less deep thought and perhaps that would have practical consequences such as less invention, discovery, innovation, and creativity. Over time this would mean suffering might begin to outweigh happiness, and the demise of the human species. This is where things become highly subjective as one could argue a society with overall less suffering regardless of happiness is best. But without happiness suffering cannot be reduced. This type of speculation is as I said very subjective and complex.

How about people who suffer when loved ones die? This is a consequence of our bonding capacity, which increases survivability, and hence why it’s pleasurable. We evolved areas of the brain that aided socialisation, and here we are now. Losing a loved one is a consequence of forming bonds, and without greif or loss we wouldn’t care about sticking together in groups and social situations. All the worse for our species. So in this sense, this greif and suffering is necessary for forming good social bonds. So we can view greif as evil as it causes suffering, even though it’s necessary for the good of our species.

Therefore I see evil and good as simply an extension of pleasure and pain. Of course there are more dimensions to it such as moral or natural evil, moral systems, etc. but at bottom we all experience suffering or pain when something evil has been done against us and we all experience pleasure when something good happens to us like when something makes us happy.

Every individual also has the capacity for some type of calculus which keeps tabs on how much pleasure and pain they go through and hence how much good or evil they live through. Some things are partly bad partly good etc.

Also the common notion of evil is often reserved for the most terrible offences. But I would say evil and good are on a spectrum, and this spectrum differs for every individual. This ranges from what is considered the worst possible evil (such as torture) to the best possible goodness or happiness (such as beauty). By our natures every individual sees this differently.

I guess this is a bit utilitarian, where maximising goodness or happiness is most important. So I guess it is. But negative utilitarian is better in some respects, but what I see as best is minimising suffering whilst maximising happiness or goodness. Of course we have to consider rights and all that. Which these philosophies don’t really take into account, ie the end justifies the means. It gets very complicated when thinking about political realities and so on. But the un declaration of human rights seems fair. Why should a westerner be of more value than someone from the third world? Or a poor person born into poverty being of less value than a rich person, who’s only in their predicament because of happenstance. Again these are all moral, economic, social and political questions and highly subjective.

Now I don’t think anybody actually thinks that everything can be totally evil or good. But theoretically it’s possible. Maybe someone with an abnormal psychology that can’t feel much pleasure or no pleasure, and they are in a constant state of apathy. This just shows further that objective values don’t exist.

Only a god could possibly see everything as all good or bad. But this would imply she is inconsistent. God could be partially inconsistent. We don’t know. But because we live in a rational universe, God must be partially rational at least. And because there is good in the world, god must be at least partially good. Or god could not have any stance of morality other than it’s 100 percent subjective and right and wrong don’t exist.

Because God could be inconsistent, she could see everything as good or evil or both at the same time. At the same time she could see everything the way it is for us and that is a mixture of good and evil, although there will always be those potential individual (such as those who cannot feel pleasure or those who see everything as beautiful and have a radically different neurochemistry).

So nobody really knows the mind of god if she exists. But what’s for sure is that any action can be seen as either good or bad to some individual or potential individual, and even an entire life. For example someone who believes suffering is good because it’s what Jesus went through and is therefore a divine thing, and an end to suffering is a step closer to God. In that sense everything is good because it’s all part of Gods plan. Again I don’t think anybody actually believes this but maybe. In fact you don’t even need God to actually exist to think that way, as long as you believe it, everything can be beautiful. This is totally inconsistent because suffering is the antithesis of goodness and happiness. I don’t believe it can be both, but there’s nothing stopping someone claiming that it can be. Perhaps some extreme variant of masochism comes to mind. But what about mental torture such as in schizophrenia. How could anybody see that as beautiful or good. Maybe some people out there do, again with radically different physiologies. What about depression. Maybe they have all the symptoms but don’t experience mental pain.

This is where perhaps where things break down. I believe there are human experiences that could not be seen as good. The example of depression is a case in point. By definition you are unhappy. However it is also true that to someone else this could be seen as a good thing. People who like to see others suffer etc. so from a first person point of view it is impossible to see depression as a good thing unless you improve and learn to live with the depression. But that would mean you don’t meet the criteria anymore if you’ve got your depression under control.

So in a way you can have been diagnosed with depression and be sublimely happy that’s true. But you wouldn’t really meet the criteria any longer in that case. But someone in the throes of depression’s grasp I think it’s impossible to see things as very good at all. Even if you ultimately were to become a better person from it all.

This further highlights how subjective morality can be as to one person having depression is a great way to overcome adversity and become happy, whilst to another it’s hell on earth. But neither person is right absolutely.

So unless you say God has absolute moral standards, and that in itself is used to judge right and wrong, good and evil, then morality is 100% subjective. For most people the best we can get at seeing everything as good or beautiful is by maximising the good whilst minimising the bad. And of course for every individual that will be different. I would lastly say that morality is a matter of perspective, even for a god. And nobody can deny my conscious experience of pain and suffering. My awareness of it cannot be denied, and neither can my experience of that awareness. That goes for even if I’m a brain in a vat, in a simulation or in a dream. On some level it is real. This goes back to the cogito. An aware being must exist and their consciousness must be part of their world whether it’s the true world or not. It’s happening, it’s reality on whatever level.

Sorry this was long, I just had to get it out. Hope this was helpful to someone.

1
-2

Wikipedia is quite explicit in this subject (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality):

Descriptive and normative

In its descriptive sense, "morality" refers to personal or cultural values, codes of conduct or social mores from a society that provides these codes of conduct in which it applies and is accepted by an individual. It does not connote objective claims of right or wrong, but only refers to that which is considered right or wrong. Descriptive ethics is the branch of philosophy which studies morality in this sense.

In its normative sense, "morality" refers to whatever (if anything) is actually right or wrong, which may be independent of the values or mores held by any particular peoples or cultures. Normative ethics is the branch of philosophy which studies morality in this sense.

Also most other introductory texts on the subject of morality would explain this.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .