Is Morality Objective or Subjective?

Is Morality Objective or Subjective?
dimitri
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Posted Feb 20, 2008 - 9:31 AM:

Of course, the problem of morality is the problem of relation with others. To continue what I want to say I am obliged to present some explanation.

We are living in the world of total exchange… And we exchange what we have (including services) for what we want (more)... What we have, or what we can dispose of at our will is our property (just a term); it is recognized by others and we consider it as our asset. Our main goal in life is to get as much as possible, giving as little as possible.

However the culture (I call it culture, there are many definitions of culture, but I think it is the most productive one) defines (approximately of course) equivalences for exchangeable values: what is worth what and forms of conducting negotiations. The culture defines also the order of making decisions (different for different cases).

What is called morality is the system of mainly (because there were many attempts of finding some metaphysical explanations which continue even now…) regulative character of which the meaning is to insure person against intruders encroaching on his property, or on what he considers as his asset (including his privilege conferred by the existing order or tradition…). To be able to function in society we must have some mechanism of protection of our property (in the wide sense). That is why society pays so much attention to the problem, having immediate interest in its positive solution...

On the other hand in majority of cases what is or can be considered as immoral action is directly connected with violation of somebodies rights on something, recognized by others or by the culture he lives in. Ae least it is always connected with frustration of somebodies expectations.

Regarding the moral feeling or remorse we can tell that it is closely associated with the necessity of hiding something, which means at least that we are afraid of damaging by it (the action) our reputation… reputation of good, reliable partners… And that regulative function is the only one which can find any support from society. Other aspects or other views which have no regulative function are of no interest to society and will perhaps turn gradually into an idle meditation … .

Then we can say that morality is objective so far as it reflects some realities which are known to everyone and described by something that is stable and rather objective – the culture, and are subjective because it changes in time, from culture to culture and even from a man to a man … and even in one man with time … .

Edited by jdrw on Feb 20, 2008 - 2:26 PM. Reason: paragraphing
thaKillingToke
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#12 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Feb 20, 2008 - 3:10 PM:

Hi Yahadreas,

A few comments.

Yahadreas (Posted 02/17/08 - 06:26 AM: ) wrote:


Morality: A system of right and wrong behaviour
Objective: Having actual existence or reality
Subjective: Proceeding from or taking place in a person's mind rather than the external world


Morality is a system of judgmnts that specify behaviours that are eithr good/bad or right/wrong, depending on the scope of the judgmnts. Usually right/wrong pertains explicitly to social behaviours, evn more specifically to behaviours defind undr a political system. Whereas good/bad could refr to any goal directd act.

'Objective' can have at least two distinct meanings here. OT1H, it can refr us to the scope of moral judgmnts. We can have a continuum from subjective to objective, where the most objective judgmnt is one whose scope encompasses the good of the entire universe, ie, all systems, all beings, all inclusive. Such a perfect objectivity sits as the ideal end-point of moral judgmnt. Judgmnts are objective to the degree that they tend towards this ideal. Judgmnts are subjective to the degree they tend away from it, the subjective end-point being a scope that is limitd to immediate gratification of any desire that arises.

The second sense pertains to the judgmnt's validity as being independent from the assessmnt of any moral agent. 2+2=4 is objective, because the relations are logically defind, and are not discovrd as empirical principles. Moral judgmnts can also take this form, and hence be 'objective' in the sense of specifying a strict relationship between elemnts of the judgmnt.

To be 'objective' in the sense of 'having existence in reality' may only mean that it is possible to have agreemnt between a multitude of moral agents; but this implies that there is a logically objective relationship undrlying the judgmnt, in the same way that if all agents agree as to the meaning of '2' '4' '+' and '=', they will agree that 2+2=4. This need not be empirical or have 'existence in reality'.


Yahadreas (Posted 02/17/08 - 06:26 AM: ) wrote:

The problem is that there is no individual morality.


Sure there is. Morality deals with the evaluation of means and ends. When this involves actions in a social sphere, pertaining to or having an impact on othrs, it is politics--the rights and wrongs of how we conduct ourselves in group settings. When this involves dispositions and acts pertaining to or impacting on the individual's spiritual state (the way they feel, react, are disposd) its personal morals--the rights and wrongs of how we define our charactr.

We can easily see the disctintion in the diffrnce between overt actions and intentions. A person who meets social requirements acts 'rightly' relative to society, but if done so through deceitful means or with ulterior motives, the same act may not be 'right' personally (depending on whethr this value mattrs to the individual). Moral agents can be responsible both to the largr group in which they live and work, and to themselves and their personal ideals and values. Hence, one can still be moral on a desert island.


Yahadreas (Posted 02/17/08 - 06:26 AM: ) wrote:

You might, then, want to ask a different, though similar, question: "Is there an objective morality?".

This, however, is also problematic. Moral judgements do not have actual existence or reality. They proceed from or take place in a person's mind rather than the external world. They may, however, be based upon the objective, but the judgements themselves are subjective.


This may be the case, but it may not be. Sometimes judgmnts may be purely arbitrary, basd on ungrounded prefrnces, but othr times they are carefully weighd and basd on an undrstanding of how the world actually works. In any evnt, if we can specify a set of fundamental values that the judgmnt relies upon in pronouncing an act good or bad, we can trace the objective structure of the relationship. So evn if the judgmnt is made by a moral agent, it can still have objective validity--not in the sense that it is automatically valid and applicable to all moral agents in all moral situations, but in the sense that when the elemnts of the judgmnt are cleary laid out, values will be determind by the juxtaposition, not be mere prefrnce.

It may not be a mattr of prefrnce whethr eating a certain food is good for me. I may have a condition that makes it deadly (like a peanut allergy). And it is surely not a mattr of prefrnce if my social system declares 'murdr is prohibitd' and a person deliberately gives me a high dose of peanut lacd food--their action will be 'wrong'. And if they furthr value the preservation of life, it may also be 'bad' relative to their values, and they will not only be committing a social wrong, but be violating and contradicting their own deeply held values.

The point is the relations are set, once we juxtapose the elemnts and define them. We arent always free to merely pronounce value on things, lest we act irrationally. And the minimal requiremnt for being a moral agent, I should think, is to deliberate and judge rationally.


Yahadreas (Posted 02/17/08 - 06:26 AM: ) wrote:

The taste of chocolate is a subjective judgement based on the objective facts of chocolate, my gustation receptors, and the brain state(s) it produces. Right and wrong, in their moral sense, have no relation to factual conditions of the universe. They are conditional to consciousness.


This is both true and false. Its true in this sense: Moral agents are free to choose the fundamental standard of value they apply to a moral system. How a moral system judges acts is contingent on this value. This is open to choice. This choice may in turn be chosen rationally or irrationally, by deliberation or arbitrary will.

It is false in the sense that how the values play out once we adopt a standard is (at least in part) contingent on the 'factual conditions of the universe'. This might be as simple as undrstanding what poison does to a sentient being. If poison did not kill or harm sentient beings, then there would be no grounds for evaluating it in a moral situation--it could play no part in a moral context. But depending on whethr your intent and value is geard towards effectively killing sentient beings or preserving them, poison could be eithr good or bad.

So in fact, moral systems involve both subjective and objective aspects, in terms of the prefrnces of moral agents and logically well-structure relations between elemnts in the judgmnt.


Yahadreas (Posted 02/17/08 - 06:26 AM: ) wrote:

The term "objective morality" is contradictory. The term "subjective morality" is tautological.


A moral system can be objectively valid in the logical sense. Or it can have an 'objective' scope. In which case, there is no contradiction in the idea of an objective morality. And neithr, then, would subjective morality be tautological or trivial.

cheers,

8)
thaKillingToke
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Posted Feb 20, 2008 - 3:41 PM:

BeHereNow wrote:

Physical laws are not subjective. Why must moral laws be subjective?
Why is there not an absolute standard of moral behavior, regardless of lifeform or culture?


A good question. My answr would be because moral agents, minimally, are free with respect to defining values, that is, in choosing which standards will be set as their principle values guiding their judgmnts.

Thus there are many ways a human can live, but none are necessitatd by way of hesh being 'human', except for the bare requiremnts to keep body and mind togethr, as it were.



BeHereNow wrote:

In the case of absolute moral laws, those sentient beings that violate them may not display the results immediately.


Perhaps. This goes towards a theory of karma. The problem is that it seems rathr difficult to undrstand how certain kinds of acts can create tangible effects that come back upon the agent, especially ovr large periods of time. For instance, suppose it was absolutely wrong to lie, but I tell a lie anyway. The lie itself doesnt really hurt anyone as much as it saves me from something (like discipline). What mechanism can possibly bring this back upon me?

When we break it down, the causality of karma is intractable. Evn the Buddha said this. More so, we oftn see people doing 'bad things' in this life who nevr get held accountable. So, assuming there is but one life to live, there is no 'bite' in moral laws. They are nevr enforcd, or if they are, usually not on the original actors in the moral situation. There might be consequences from a moral act, but these spread out like ripples in a pond. There doesnt seem to be anything forcing them back on the actors to grant them their just desserts.

cheers,

8)
thaKillingToke
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Posted Feb 20, 2008 - 3:50 PM:

unenlightened wrote:

May I suggest that morality is neither objective nor subjective. but relational.


IMO, youre on the right track. Values are relations. Moral philosophrs scroungd around unsuccessfully for years looking for moral 'proprties' all the while missing the essential function of value which was grounding moral judgmnts. I would say that morality contains both subjective and objective aspects, refrring to the fundamental relativity of the free choice of moral agents and the objectivity of the logical relationships between elemnts evaluatd.


unenlightened wrote:

Obligations are to one another; if I am alone in the universe or on a desert island, I am free from all moral obligation and have only myself to please.


Although, insofar as a person can set for themselves a determinate goal to be a certain way, to react to environmnts a certain way, and to pursue certain goals, one can perfectly be moral on a desert island because one can still satisfy or not satisfy those criteria and values. The concept of honour illustrates this: It is entirely relatd to the spiritual state of the individual, and acts done--whethr in a social or private sphere--can impact one's honour.


cheers,

8)
Erol
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Posted Feb 20, 2008 - 5:49 PM:

I believe morality is subjective because it is defined by our instincts, our interpretations of those instincts, our interpretations of those interpretations, etc. We have the instinct to sustain our lifes, and to avoid pain. Because of this we do our best to prevent others from inflicting pain upon ourselves. Through the progression of society, and the teaching of morals, we have instinctive negative feelings, for example, when we cause others pain.

Rather than look at everything in its complex cause-effect relationships, we generalize actions through morality. We say that hurting others or killing is bad, because it achieves the goal of preventing these actions.

In our current situation it is morally wrong to inflict pain in another. However, what if humans had the instinct to enjoy pain? Would the actual action of inflicting pain change in any way whatsoever? Would it still be immoral? I believe the action would not change. It also would not be immoral, because our set of morals would be shaped around enjoying pain. Because we would strive for pain, we would label it as "good" to achieve our goal of having the action occur. In this hypothetical situation, where would anyone get the idea that pain is immoral?

Because the action is the same in both situations, and the morality of the action changes in the situations, morality is subjective.

Of course, you could argue that the morality depends on the intent of the acting individual, but then, wouldn't it be subjective because it depends on intent, which is subjective? Or is intent subjective? Would saying that intent is objective be the same as saying there is no form of free will?

At a basic level, what I'm saying is that morality is subjective because it is defined by our instincts. Were our instincts different, morality would be different.
dimitri
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Posted Feb 21, 2008 - 3:34 AM:

Talking of morality we must not let some facts from our sight. And the first is - which place historically the morality took in society… There were times when society had not such elaborate system of laws as now, and its life was regulated mainly by traditions, such as for instance are put down in the Old Testament. And all the actions which were forbidden by such laws were considered immoral. And people really felt remorse (besides the fear of being exposed) doing such things. And we too (besides the remorse or what it is…) feel fear doing immoral things and never do it openly (or doing it we have to overcome the fear). So moral has an obvious objective component. That means that the society does not allow doing such things. And the people (our fellow creatures) do not favour it. And such our actions (immoral) are as a rule punished, which (the punishment) can be defined generally as a refusal to cooperate. Every time we make some immoral action our reputation (as a good, reliable partner) suffers. And we at least are afraid of losing our reputation, which complicates our further functioning in society. We do not as a rule think much about the general good and bad for the universe when we want to do something which is considered in our society as immoral, but we have quite definite feeling, something like fear of being exposed (the same feeling may be as when being sober we are going to undress at some party… in which by the way I do not see anything good or bad for the universe). And each time we make something immoral from the point of view of society our action breaks some rule of dealing with property or devaluates some social value. And always we have society which is ready to blame everything which is not allowed by the existing tradition. And the system works, because we still have traditions which help us in communicating and cooperating with each other on the basis of respecting mutual rights, which means that aberrations are not such as to destroy the principle… And one more moment: take our education or bringing up or our children. They do not have the feeling of shame when they are exposed nude before others, they do not feel remorse offending us. We show them that we feel offended; we refuse to cooperate with them… And then they feel remorse or are just afraid of doing the same thing next time…
Regarding our individual morality. Living in a society and observing and thinking we find some traditions absurd, obsolete, hypocritical (as smiling to your superior who in your opinion is not a good man, which is not honest, good… which by the way is one of contradictions of the conventional morality)… And every man develops his own system of values which does not necessarily coincide with the conventional one (but there is not even universal morality in one and the same culture: if a child breaks a glass wether reporting by his friend is moral or not? from the adult’s point of view and from their friend’s point… and we have morality of criminal bands… which however is also supported by all the members, or they watch that nobody break it…). In our developed society where we have a system of elaborate laws protecting property and are not depended so much on tradition the concept of morality have lost its importance as a regulative factor (not entirely of course) becoming vague and more and more an object of abstract speculation… There can be said of course much more about values, property and assets to specify…
dimitri
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Posted Feb 21, 2008 - 3:35 AM:

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