A mind-independent morality is one that applies to all species. It is not dependent on humanity, consciousness and opinions. Ignorance and lack of awareness would not affect the immorality of an action. For example, other animals eating each other would be immoral even if they don't understand their actions, what rights are, etc. A human child or teenager taking someone's belongings would be immoral even if the child does not understand what it's doing. Is there a secular philosophy that defends such mind-independent morality? And where would the morals come from?

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    It might be worth flagging up that your terminology is a little unusual? I think you intend "Mind-independent" to mean something like "asentient", as opposed to the typical interpretation of something like "objective"
    – Paul Ross
    Mar 16, 2022 at 18:47
  • So, you yell at the lions, "Don't eat that zebra, it is wrong!" And... What do you expect to happen? The police should put the lions in jail? A rock falls on someone's head: "Naughty rock! Don't do that!"
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 16, 2022 at 21:37
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    @ScottRowe We'd jail the other animals and curse at a rock, yes. The rock or lion wouldn't understand "don't do [insert thing]". We'd have to physically stop them from doing [insert thing]. And it's funny you compare a lion to a rock. The discussion on whether or not humans have free will is not settled. Without free will, humans too would be like a lion or a rock. Doubt people wouldn't jail a human for their actions even if there is no free will. Other animals are no different
    – ActualCry
    Mar 16, 2022 at 22:45
  • Yeah, I haven't really tackled the old question of what to do about 'criminals' if there is no free will. I'll have to make myself face that one someday. (Wait... What?) So. The Sun. It will swell up and destroy the Earth eventually. We're gonna need a bigger jail. Don't get me started on those million star mass black holes! Job security I guess.
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 17, 2022 at 1:09
  • @ScottRowe Not going to jail the sun. I believe it's good for humanity or any specie to go extinct. "Life" is gross and the sooner it's gotten rid of, the better. The sun swelling up and ending everything on earth is a good that should be praised in my book ... My point was depending on the goal, a non-moral agent can be considered moral or immoral
    – ActualCry
    Mar 17, 2022 at 1:55

3 Answers 3


Utilitarians aim for such, and the basis there is that moral actions maximise net utility (for all beings), and degree of morality relates to degree of maximisation. In practice, utilitarianism covers many different interpretations of what utility, with early thinkers taking up pleasure, or happiness, and later ones increasingly complex and nuanced pictures of utility.

Sam Harris in 'The Moral Landscape' argues there is some unambiguous way of working out a 'landscape' of moral action in relation to something like wellbeing. Honestly though, I don't think it makes sense, as discussed here: Is Sam Harris's view of morality innovating? What philosophers innovated specifics on morality?

Kant in 'Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals' claimed to arrive by 'pure' reasoning alone, at what he called the Categorical Imperative:

"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law."

Basically, do-as-you-would-be-done-by; and, a version of The Golden Rule.

But I would question whether this, or any reasoning using language, can be meaningfully called 'mind independent'. Following the Private Language Argument, I would say anything considered 'objective', or to have some kind of transcendent realness, is better understood as intersubjective. Discussed in relation to several examples of moral reasoning here: Is the Categorical Imperative Simply Bad Math? :)


The philosophical concept of 'morality' can only apply to creatures who are capable of conscious choice: aka 'moral agents'. A moral agent must be able to:

  1. Conceptualize some number of different paths forward from the current conditions
  2. Evaluate each path forward on one or more dimensions
  3. Choose from among the various paths and act to achieve it

The 'moral' portion of that process lies entirely within °2, but without the capacity for °1 and °3, that moral evaluation is meaningless.

So, no, what you're asking for doesn't actually exist.

  • Or people are speciesists and don't bother to find out about a morality that applies to non-moral agents
    – ActualCry
    Mar 16, 2022 at 18:16
  • @ActualCry: You've misread what I said; I never mentioned humans or species. Mar 16, 2022 at 18:21

Words matter in framing questions

This question uses the word “moral” in the adjective form, to describe a noun.

The word “moral” has a definition that is inseparable from the personhood of the noun it describes. In an existential application, this constrains the discussion of the propriety of the adjective “moral” to nouns which are persons and have a will. This is limited to humans, by definition.

Fictional constructs may project personhood onto any imaginary construct, such as Thomas Tank Engine or Superman, or The Grim Reaper. These don’t enter into an existential discussion on the morality of their act, as their acts are all imaginary.

In essence, putting the words “mind-independent morality” together merely forms an oxymoron no more sensible than dehydrated water. You are asking if “person-less morality” exists. It does not.

  • If you claim morality requires personhood, mind-independent morality would be an oxymoron. If we define morality in ways that don't require personhood, personless morality can not be an oxymoron. Morality is not like water. You can't define it without going around in circles
    – ActualCry
    Mar 16, 2022 at 20:26
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    @ActualCry A question can’t be formed around a concept that can’t be defined. It has a definition that we must abide by if we expect communication. Arbitrarily filled concepts can’t produce useful analysis.
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 16, 2022 at 20:28

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