Objective Morality and Moral Diversity

A former classmate of mine who took a philosophy class told me that some people in his class, including himself, didn’t think there are objective moral values and duties.  Why?  Because different cultures have different opinions on what is right and wrong.  The diversity between cultures and individuals seems to be a strike against an objective standard.

The problem is that this fact doesn’t lead to that conclusion.  With any objective reality, people apprehend it differently and some people have a closer grasp of it than others do.  If there is an objective or factual quality to moral values and obligations, then it wouldn’t be surprising that people apprehend it differently or have differing grasps of its content.  It doesn’t show that it isn’t there.

This doesn’t solve all the problems of course.  How do we know this reality?  What form does it take?  I can’t really answer these things right now, but I don’t find the above argument against objective moral values and duties convincing.

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3 Responses to Objective Morality and Moral Diversity

  1. Jess Reid says:

    There is no moral objectivity. Not only is this plainly evident in that people will do opposing actions and both assert the morality of them (on mass) and secondly because any moral which could be regarded as ‘universal’ and that is found in most places can be explainable by evolution.

    Unless you believe in God (which, it appears, you do) there can be no moral objectivity. Morality is utterly at the discretion of human decision, and humans being animals whose fundamental desires stem from the need to survive and propagate the species, made ‘laws’ which made that possible. In the grander scheme of things humans are no more significant than any other mammal or life form on the planet, but our capacity for thought arrogantly makes us believe otherwise. We say ‘don’t kill’ because we wouldn’t like it if someone killed us, basically. ‘Don’t steal’ comes from a primal need to hold onto possessions which enabled survival.

    How is it, also, that so many morally pious people are also sanctamonious, patronising, judgemental bores opposed to fun and terrified of their flesh?

  2. Sam Harper says:

    Jess, these don’t seem like good reasons to say there is no moral objectivity.

    First, you say that it “is this plainly evident in that people will do opposing actions and both assert the morality of them (on mass).” How does it follow from this observation that there is no moral objectivity? Does the mere fact that people disagree on their moral opinions mean that there are no moral facts that are true independently of what people believe? It doesn’t seem so. People disagree on all sorts of things. People once disagreed on the shape of the earth. The earth didn’t become shapeless as a result, did it? It doesn’t seem to me that anything follows from the fact that people have disagreements about morality.

    Second, you there is no moral objectivity “because any moral which could be regarded as ‘universal’ and that is found in most places can be explainable by evolution.” How does it follow that because you can explain morality by evolution that you therefore must explain morality by evolution. Suppose I made the following argument: Morality isn’t subjective because you can explain it by God? Wouldn’t you immediately see the flaw? You can explain morality by evolution OR God, but the mere fact that you can explain it one way or the other doesn’t tell you which way is correct. Besides, even if the evolutionary explanation is correct, how does it follow that there are no moral facts? Aren’t you committing the genetic fallacy by claiming a belief is false because of how the belief was formed?

    The next paragraph is full of mere assertion. None of it rises to the level of argument, so you haven’t given any reason to think there are no moral facts.

    Finally, you asked, “How is it, also, that so many morally pious people are also sanctamonious, patronising, judgemental bores opposed to fun and terrified of their flesh?” I’m curious what the mystery is. Do you find it odd that morally pious people are sanctimonious, patronizing, judgmental bores because you think there’s something wrong with being a sanctimonious, patronizing, judgmental bore? If so, then you’re asserting that there are objective moral facts. But let’s look at it another way. Suppose I asked this question:

    How is it, also, that so many morally pious people are also kind, generous, considerate sweethearts?”

    Wouldn’t you think that was an odd question? It’s odd because you don’t see anything wrong with being kind, considerate, and generous. Since you recognize those as being virtues, there’s no reason to even raise the question. There’s no mystery as to why a morally pious person would have these traits because those are the traits you would expect a morally pious person to have.

    But it IS a mysterious why a morally pious person would be sanctimonious patronizing, and judgmental. The reason you raise your question and not mine is because you recognize that those traits are vices and the traits I mentioned are virtues. So even in your argument against moral objectivity, you betray that you know good and well that there’s a difference between virtue and vice.

    But to answer your question, the fact that people believe in morality doesn’t necessarily mean that they will behave morally. Some people do bad things because they LIKE being bad. They do it BECAUSE it’s bad. Other people do it simply because their desire to engage in the activity is stronger than their desire to do the right thing. A lot of people do it because they are so focused on how other people behave that they neglect to reflect on their own behavior and whether they are being consistent. There are all kinds of reasons, none of which have any bearing on whether or not there are any objective moral facts.

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