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So, from what I understand, subjective ethics refers to when one's personal taste, emotional state, and contextual situation can cause one person to reach a different moral conclusion in a situation over someone else's, whereas objective ethics refers to a fact-based, measurable, reason driven way to determine the one, right solution to any given moral problem.

What if subjectivity is actually just objectivity in disguise?

Here's an analogy: in Mathematics, there are objects whose behavior can be completely determined by a finite number of conditions. A line on a coordinate plane can be completely determined by two of its points. The behavior of the natural numbers can be completely determined by 4-5 axioms and one axiom schema (the principle of induction). The dynamics of a simple linear differential equation can be completely determined by it's boundary conditions.

In objective reasoning about ethics, we're trying to find a consistent, rigid moral framework that describes what the right thing to do in a given situation is, and we're trying to do this with some finite number of rules that fit together nicely.

What I'm thinking is, the reality of the situation is that there is one objective moral framework that governs morality, and in that objective moral framework, there is some apparatus that is not known to us which can make things like personal taste, emotional state, and an individual's life into observable, empirical, measurable things, and given all of this data + a few other rules, this framework will ensure there is exactly one answer that is correct, in some sense.

Basically, there's this giant table that takes in all of the relevant facts about an individual, and a few general rules about ethics, and using this finite collection of information, outputs the correct moral response to that situation. Any pragmatic subjective or objective framework we come up with down here is simply an approximation of this ideal one described earlier, similar to how a supervised machine learning algorithm describes a procedure to find an approximating function to some ideal, "correct" function for a task.

If there's any misunderstanding about the meaning of subjective/objective ethics in a philosophical sense, or if there are unclear or questionable parts of my discussion, feel free to point them out and discuss, but thoughts?

  • The answer to your question is YES. Look into the objective part of Philosophy AND ETHICS and not psychology which is Normative ethics. Clearly some of the answers given were subjective and usually too emotional for a legit philosophy context. – Logikal Jul 8 '18 at 0:57
  • @Logikal, "psychology which is Normative ethics", what? Psychology is descriptive. But the questioner asks not only about emotional statements. There always is something we assume as true, say, modus ponens. Same with ethics. – rus9384 Jul 9 '18 at 8:34
  • @rus9834, you quoted out of context. You did not quote the entire sentence and seem to imply I said psychology is Normative ethics. That is not what I expressed. Secondly both you and the OP assume that there is always an assumption which is wrong. Humans can have knowledge without any assumptions. You are confusing mathematical logic terminology with proper deductive reasoning concepts. Mathematical logic requires assumptions where you don't find any in the Aristotelian logic system as it is not symbolic. – Logikal Jul 9 '18 at 10:46
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All ethics start with subjective first principles

Just as with the natural sciences, you can only trace the cause of morals and ethics backwards a finite number of times before you have to say "I do not know what the cause of that is".

For example:

The glass is broken on the floor

What is the cause of the glass being broken on the floor?

It fell.

What is the cause of the glass falling?

It was accelerated from its lofted position towards the floor.

What is the cause of the acceleration towards the floor?

Gravity

What is the cause of gravity?

Uhm... I do not know.

Similarly...

You shall not murder

Why shall I not murder?

Because needlessly taking the life of another human is wrong.

Why is it wrong to needlessly take the life of another human being?

Because we consider human life very precious.

Why do we consider human life to be very precious?

Uhm... I do not know, we just do.

For as long as you are looking for causes/justifications, eventually you reach a point where you have to say "I do not know" / "We have just decided that this is a first principle".

So when you say...

What if subjectivity is actually just objectivity in disguise?

...I say it is the other way around: all objective ethics and morals have their roots in at least one subjective judgement call.

Side-note

This is part of the allure of religion. We humans have an innate instinct to be "good". But what is "good"? We humans are flawed, easy to deceive and trick into doing bad stuff. And we are aware very of this.

For this reason, we humans get very insecure and worried if someone tells us "The decision about whether you are good or bad rests within your own judgement, or the judgement of other humans".

But what makes my judgement call "good"? What if I am wrong? What if other persons are wrong? This worries us greatly.

That is what makes to so very comforting when someone says "That is the divine will, and that is always good".

  • Your explanation on why should not we murder is not the best one. You yourself would not want to live in society where your life can be suddenly taken (taken without your own consent). So, if you want to live in society where life cannot be suddenly taken, you should also be a part of society where it is inappropriate. Therefore, you should not murder. On the other side other people are not like you, and some are not even close to that. So, rule may be not universal. – rus9384 Jul 6 '18 at 16:31
  • @rus9384 It does not matter. It serves to prove the point that sooner or later, you will have to say "We just decided it that way". – MichaelK Jul 6 '18 at 16:40
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You implicitly take moral facts to be like material facts. But they involve judgements, and those judgements involve our whole beings - for instance what kind of a world we want or think we can create. So no two beings can have a truly identical moral framework, without being the same being. However much they correlate, they will diverge.

Eliezer Yudkowsky describes ought statements as just very complex is statements. And I accept that. But they specifically arise in percieving minds, the functioning whole of which needs to be included in the is statement.

It is misguided to think objective morality must result in a single objective system for defining what is correct, which can be seen obviously from Godel's Incompleteness.

Minds can become more unified, more similar, by discussions and pursuasions that bring them into alignment. Similarly moral systems can become more shared with that, but that process is fundamentally limited unless there is an 'ultimate mind' or fundamental place to stand that can determine 'correctness'.

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Is there such a thing as objective ethics?

Ethics change depending on ones loyalties and hierarchy of value, ethics are produced with different compromises.

You will not kill. But you can execute, go to war, defend your property with lethal force. Or any life of any organism must be respected and compensated for if removed. Or if it is your enemy, you can deceive them into being killed, because they are not worthy of being respected.

Superficially ethics can appear the same, you will not kill, except the exceptions or what this applies to can be very different. So the truth is we do not agree to a degree that social groups will go to war over them.

  • if it is your enemy, you can deceive them into being killed, because they are not worthy of being respected Not as part of a coherent ethical system surely? Only through compromises to one that would result in prison. – CriglCragl Jul 6 '18 at 17:04
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It's very likely that I misunderstand you somewhere. I want to make an answer that offers multiple references that interrelate with your question, or so I think.

So, from what I understand, subjective ethics refers to when one's personal taste, emotional state, and contextual situation can cause one person to reach a different moral conclusion in a situation over someone else's, whereas objective ethics refers to a fact-based, measurable, reason driven way to determine the one, right solution to any given moral problem.

There's no fixed terminology for that. Generally though, we can differentiate between our ethical beliefs and ethical truths which our beliefs aim at. Depending on our metaethical views, there might be "objective" (or at least universal) ethical truths, relative or subjectivist ethical truths, or simply no ethical truths. Relative or subjectivist here means that the truth value of ethical statements is dependent relative to something.

Under some kinds of Moral Relativism, our opinions on certain things can influence the ethical truths that are relative to us. Then something like emotional state could change the moral truths themselves. But if it does matter then there can't be one right solution because the solution will be dependent on something. For example, our right solution might be dependent on our culture. Or it might be dependent on some base values we hold which aren't universal.

Currently, the view with a slim majority is Moral Realism which holds that there are universal ethical truths (in some sense). (Obviously that doesn't mean that it's correct. It's just to give an idea of the state of the field.)

Emotional state could also play a role on the level of normative ethics. Context of a situation can matter in some views in normative ethics even if morality happens to be universal. Either if the principle we use incorporates it, or if we subscribe to Moral Particularism and hold that moral truths can't be expressed in principles.

Basically, there's this giant table that takes in all of the relevant facts about an individual, and a few general rules about ethics, and using this finite collection of information, outputs the correct moral response to that situation. Any pragmatic subjective or objective framework we come up with down here is simply an approximation of this ideal one described earlier, similar to how a supervised machine learning algorithm describes a procedure to find an approximating function to some ideal, "correct" function for a task.

If I understand correctly what you mean then this wouldn't work. Two senses of "correct response" clash. I'll go through two options: one under the background of Moral Realism, the second under the background of an unspecified Moral Relativism (could just be methodical).

If we want to establish a SINGLE correct response then Moral Realism must be true. But then facts about the individual could only matter insofar they provide context. But we don't construct the right response by balancing moral beliefs, instead there's simply one right belief. Depending on which normative ethical theory is correct, wrong beliefs could matter as context. Two examples:

  1. If a kind of utilitarianism is correct then facts about the individual would tell us how that individual would react to certain acts. For example, person X thinks that lying is wrong, we lie to X and they find out then this might change the result compare to person Y who think lying can be okay sometimes, we lie and Y finds out. If we have an act utilitarianism then this might change the best act depending on the individual it's done torwards.
  2. If, say, Kantian deontology is correct then facts about the individual don't matter at all because acts are removed from context under the Categorical Imperative.

If we want to establish a correct moral response from two different moral beliefs without discarding one as wrong with an argument then there can't be a single correct response. Because if an algorithm could be done then there would be parameters that favour one view over another. That's simply because the person making the parameters would hold some moral view that would influence the parameters. Or they could simply be arbitrary. There's no standard to judge "correct" parameters. And, well, making an algorithm in the first place can't be done. Rather, in moral discourse, we would sift out opposing beliefs that contradict themselves, or try to convince someone of our view, or change our view.

But the basis of your idea can lead us to a problem subfield which you might find interesting. It's the issue of "decision under moral uncertainty". The idea is this: if we can't decide with arguments for one moral belief then how are we supposed to act?

We can't direct translate this issue to deciding on collective actions when there are multiple opposing beliefs from multiple people. Then it becomes more of a problem that leads us into political philosophy: how should our be politically arranged with opposing views on morality in a pluralistic society?

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If your proposal is a good one, that is, if your "master table" of moral data can make any given decision either right or wrong for all moral actors, then it will stand up to all the best challenges against objective or subjective morality. Two come to mind: the Euthyphro Dilemma and Trolley Problems.

OK, that's your homework assignment for the night. Place your answers on the lectern before class tomorrow.

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