In a recent article about veganism/reducetarianism I argue that morality, just like "tallness" or "baldness", is both objective and subjective. It is objective in the sense that, for any two actions, there is always an objective difference between the amount of harm they cause, just like for any two people there is always an objective difference in height or baldness between them. It is subjective, however, in the sense that, in borderline cases where people disagree, there is no objective way to resolve the dispute. If one person says somebody is tall and another disagrees, nobody can be meaningfully said to be "wrong" in an objective sense, and the same can be said when two people disagree over whether an action is permissible or not. Basically, I argue that "morally impermissible" is a "vague predicate" that gives rise to a sorites paradox. To me this idea is very natural and many people I talked to agreed that it made sense, but I have never heard this argument from an academic source. Is there any philosopher who defends a similar view? Is there a technical term for this position?

  • I can objectively say that Bob is taller than Alice, but when I say "What Bob does is morally better than what Alice does" or "what Bob does causes more harm than Alice" (which in itself is a subjective consequentialist choice for a measure of morality. Deontologists would argue that caused harm is irrelevant), it can only be subjective. It's a variation of the is/ought problem. Harm is subjective, some people would argue killing a cow is just as bad as killing a human, while some would slaughter 100s of cows to save one human without a thought.
    – armand
    Nov 23, 2021 at 10:59
  • The fact that there are multiple answers to a question doesn't mean that question is subjective. It is possible that one answer is right and the other is wrong. Harm may be impossible to measure precisely with current technology, but that doesn't make it subjective.
    – Ariel
    Nov 23, 2021 at 12:33
  • Harm depends on each person's appreciation. What is harmful to you might not be harmful to me, or be so to a different degree. The death of Kobe Bryant had one of my friends crying while, as I learned who he was at the same time I learned about his death, it didn't move me one way or another. What depends on each individual's point of view is, by definition, subjective. Science ormultiple answers have nothing to do with that.
    – armand
    Nov 23, 2021 at 14:13
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    Your definition of OBJECTIVE is not clear. You are using the term too general: too vague, & too broad. I don't think you understand what objective means. You may be using the street slang definition. Morals have to be objective by definition. Is there subjectivity inside the domain or extention of OBJECTIVE? Yes you are correct.
    – Logikal
    Nov 23, 2021 at 17:11
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    Vagueness and borderline cases are considered in ethics, but they do not open a "third way", the vagueness concerns descriptive, not moral, aspects. See Shafer-Landau, Vagueness, Borderline Cases and Moral Realism:"My analysis requires that we abandon bivalence for some moral propositions. This sort of move is taken by most metaphysicians to imply some form of antirealism... this assumption is mistaken. Moral realists can allow for the existence of an indeterminate moral order that is properly captured by semantically indeterminate propositions."
    – Conifold
    Nov 24, 2021 at 0:36

1 Answer 1


Kantian moral constructivism, especially as espoused by C. Korsgaard or O. O'Neil, is meant to be the third option between moral realism and moral relativism. From Constructivism in Metaethics:

Both Rawls and O’Neill present Kantian constructivism as a third option between realism and relativism


[Christine] Korsgaard points to an assumption she believes that realists and antirealists share and that constructivists reject, namely, that the primary function of concepts deployed in judgments that can be true or false is to represent things as they are, so if normative judgments are true, they must represent something real out there in the world. By contrast, constructivists think that normative concepts, which are deployed in judgments that can be true or false, have a practical function: they name solutions to practical problems, rather than represent features of reality (Korsgaard 2008: 302 ff.).


Unlike substantive realism, which holds that moral judgments are true insofar as they represent a mind-independent normative reality, and antirealism, which denies that there are normative truths because it denies that there are normative properties, constructivists hold that practical judgments can be true or false without representing mind-independent normative facts about the world

Further reading:

  • C. Korsgaard , Self-Constitution: Agency, Identity, and Integrity

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