Morality is Still Not Objective

Practice-ObjectivityPhilosopher Dan Fincke, on a recent Atheist Experience show, says that atheists ought to accept that morality is objective, just to attract theists.  He says that there are “best” moral values.  Says who?  He’s taking his own personal opinions about morality and imposing it as a “best practice”, yet there are lots of people that would disagree.  This is the same problem that Matt Dillahunty’s “Superiority of Secular Morality” has.

The issue with both is that they are absolutely not objective.  I’ve posted the definition many times before, but there are a lot of atheists, typically liberal atheists, although I’m not sure if that fact has anything to do with the error or not, who seem to think they can come up with a personal “ideal” morality, then declare that anything that aims for that ideal must be objective.  They ignore the fact that the ideal itself is not, by definition, objective because it required the human mind to invent it.

So let’s look at objectivity.  Objectivity, by definition, requires that the proposition be outside of the human mind.  The pull of gravity on Earth is objective.  It is 9.8m/s^2.  It is that for everyone regardless of their feelings on the matter.  It is true of everyone that exists within a 1G gravity field.  In fact, it’s not just true of people, it’s true of animals and rocks and anything that can find itself in that 1G field; it’s true of things which are incapable of having an opinion on the pull of gravity.

Now let’s look at morality and see if there is any form of morality which can exist beyond individual opinion.  I think it’s clear, at least for anyone honest, that it’s simply not possible.  Everyone who argues that morality can be objective seems to propose a set of standards which are entirely subjective.  This is true of the non-religious and the religious alike.  Both simply hold out an ideal that they cannot demonstrate as the only valid means of examining morality and I don’t buy into any of it.  Take Christians, for instance, who even though they have their moral by-laws written down in black and white cannot agree which ones to follow and which ones are important.  The same goes for Muslims and Jews and Buddhists and Hindus.  None of them can come to the same conclusion even though they have what they claim is an utterly authoritative source sitting in front of them.  Much the same goes for the atheists, while they have no single source of moral guidance,  can’t agree on a single ideological standard either.

Morality is one of those subjects that people are not going to agree on and trying to stamp an “objective” label on it won’t help.  It’s a subject that we ought to all talk about and try to come to some kind of common understanding, but that won’t happen if we, as people who ought to understand that it’s not an objective idea, try to make it one.  I think it’s fundamentally dishonest to attempt to play it off as though it was objective, just to attract people who already think that it is.  It’s no more honest for us, as atheists, to present morality that way than it was for early Christians to let pagans keep their ancient holidays and ideas, so long as they started giving their money and lip service to the Church.  It would be like saying “we won’t talk about evolution anymore if you’ll just stop believing in gods”.    The goal needs to be to bring everyone to reality, not to compromise reality to individual opinion.  There should be one and only one standard and that is the factual acceptance of the world around us, no matter how it makes anyone feel.  Science doesn’t change the mathematical pull of gravity because it makes someone uncomfortable.  Reality is what actually is.

Isn’t it about time that rational people just started dealing with it?



8 thoughts on “Morality is Still Not Objective

  1. Good post. Sometimes I think it'd be better if people used internal and external instead of subjective and objective in their minds to think things through. Because, as you point, people really don't understand the word objective:

    of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers

    That's external. Gravity, as you pointed out, is external. It effects everything in the same way It's easy to perceive and measure. It's easy to understand. We all agree on it, even if we don't personally understand all the physics behind it beyond a superficial way.

    Morality… I have yet to see one iota of naturally occurring 'morality' in nature. Which means we have to come to it from internal measures that are highly influenced by our experiences and feelings. Which is why it's so hard.

    1. That's because there are no instances of objective morality, it's simply an absurd idea. However, it's easier to pretend that one's morals are objective because they no longer have to defend or support them than it is to acknowledge the truth, that many different people have many different ideas of what makes up a moral society and none of them are any more demonstrably or universally true than any others. People can no longer play the "us vs. them" card, where the moral people on our side can look down on the immoral people on their side, just because we say so.

  2. hehe, the moment I heard objective morality mentioned on TAE I knew you were going to write this post.

    The thing that really annoys me about the whole thing, is I like what they are trying to do. Part of his point is that we can bring scientific ideas into the discussion. Once we agree on what our goals are in a certain situation, we can analyze things and figure out which course of action is best. Once we say morality involves reducing suffering, we can examine things and find out how to reduce suffering the most. We can bring in studies and such and see that sometimes a counter-intuitive idea actually reduces suffering the most. There is something here that is valuable.

    But what is to be gained by calling this objective? There's going to be subjective things throughout this whole process. Even with something as simple sounding as "reduce suffering", how do you compare one person's suffering versus another? How do you compare today's suffering with tomorrows suffering? If I can choose an option where I suffer twice as much for half as long, which is better? There are a ton of interesting conversations that can come out of these types of questions, but objective? I think not

    My recent post Genesis 49: Nice Chosen People You Got There

    1. Of course I was going to respond, I get so sick and tired of people not being able to get this simple concept through their heads, especially people who pretend to be rational and critical about their beliefs. I wouldn't have a problem with people acknowledging that their moral values are subjective and going on from there, but I think that, for the same reason the theists do it, a lot of atheists are just looking for a universal standard that they get emotional comfort from that they can hold up and not have to think about too much, which will win arguments. I think that's a highly unrealistic expectation, yet it seems to be the one that most people have.

      Me, I'm a realist. I don't care how it makes me feel, I don't care how often I have to defend it, I only care that my views are realistic, based on evidence and are well thought out and defensible. I really get sick of feeling alone in that.

  3. I saw this on the rational wiki and i though you might like it. Great post BTW.

    "The moral principles that people claim to be "objective" usually coincide very well with what they feel subjectively to be true. When pressed to provide justification, the person in question will usually just fail to understand that morality might not be objective, and might consequently grow increasingly doubtful or hysterical as the subjective bases of their arguments are progressively revealed, as has been observed in recent times."
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