Friday, March 8, 2013

Subjective or objective morals?

One argument with which many apologists really love to play with words is the question of whether there exist objective moral values, or whether all moral values are subjective.

One of the most typical fallacies they do here is to posit a completely false dichotomy: They say that either morals are subjective, and therefore any person can decide what is morally good or bad, or morals are objective, in which case it's the same for everybody.

This is a completely false dichotomy because there are, in fact, different degrees of subjectivity. A community of people can agree on certain ground rules of what's good and bad, and these moral codes will be much more objective than those of any one single person. A larger society, such as a country, can agree with a common code of conduct, and this will be much more objective than those of smaller communities. A group of countries can agree on a universal moral code (such as universal human rights,) and these will be much more objective than those of any one single person, or even one single country.

However, the apologists want to build a straw man: If you think that morals are subjective, then it means that you think that every single person can decide on what's good and bad.

That's not how it works. Morals being subjective, but still not up to each individual person, are not mutually exclusive propositions. As said, a society can impose a global moral code which, technically speaking, is subjective (because it's an agreement,) but much less so than the arbitrary thoughts of a single person.

The more people are involved in agreeing on a common moral code, the higher the standard of that code will be, because it will naturally affect positively a larger amount of people. And that's what morality is about: Creating a code of conduct that affects positively the largest amount of people possible.

This code of conduct will be by necessity, and technically speaking, subjective, but significantly less so. As said, there are degrees of subjectivity.

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