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.

  • 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

5 Answers 5


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).

  • 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

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
    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

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.


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.


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 .