Sunday, July 3, 2016

Is morality objective or subjective?



Last week, I saw a post in Facebook courtesy of Mr. Reynaldo Awa in which he address the issue regarding objective morality. He started the post by defining “subjective” in which he said, “A concept only becomes subjective IF and ONLY IF that concept is a matter of personal preference, just like beauty, or fashion, or taste in food, or what-have-yous.” Based on his own definition, this is how he presented the meaning of subjective morality.

Now, let me present to you my definitions…

To simplify, subjective morality is about what we humans want. Objective morality on the other hand, is defined (based on Jerry Coyne’s definition) as being the stance that something can be discerned to be “morally wrong” through reasoning about facts about the world, rather than by reference to human opinion.

So we now have 2 different approaches when looking at the subject of morality… but wait… morality is defined as the principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior (based on a dictionary’s definition). So who gives the distinction? Well, it is us humans of course. We define what is ought to be “right or wrong,” right?
Do we base the difference “through about facts about the world?”

Let us use Mr. Awa’s own example.

According to his post, “We all know that the act of killing is wrong.”
Now, why do we know that killing is wrong? Mr. Awa did not gave us the answer for this, but he continued, “But when a person is killed due to self-defense? Did we disqualify altogether the fact that a person was killed here?”

That’s the problem and you can even see it on Mr. Awa’s own words. If you will asked Mr. Awa about killing, since he “believes” that morality is objective – he will say that killing is wrong. However, if you will ask me, I may say that it depends on the time, place and situation.

Here’s an illustration: Suppose a mother saw that her daughter is about to be “rape” by 3 men and she have the capacity to kill them. If she kills them to save her daughter, do you then say that the act of killing is wrong? But what if the 3 men were her daughter’s friends and the fact came out that her daughter really wanted to have sex with those 3 persons (so it has her consent and she’s already 23 years old) – and her mother killed them anyway, what will be your opinion now?

Mr. Awa then said, “What of in wars? Have we forgotten the fact that people died there but still casualties are accepted as facts of war?”
What about wars? Is the war against terrorism good or evil? Is a war to end Hitler’s Third Reich evil? How about the war for a Nation’s independence? Is it good or evil?

Noticed that all the answer to those questions depends on “What you want” and not from “facts about the world.” Using this in today’s situation as an example – We may disagree on President Duterte’s method when it comes to drug lords – there are those who favors it and there are those who don’t.

Thus, if morality were objective, then every human in the world were to have same conclusion regarding killing and war but it’s still human opinion, feelings and desires that define it as “good and bad.” That is subjective morality.

So, is it true (as what Mr. Awa said) that moral question is “in the VALIDITY of the act itself that is found OUTSIDE the moral agents and act itself?” No it’s not since it us humans who will be the one giving the distinction – based on our own wants (opinion).

So why is morality subjective?

First, morality is for our well-being.

Morality is our obligation. As the Christian apologist Norman Geisler wrote, “Further, it is something we ought to pursue, a duty. Morality is prescriptive (an “ought”), not merely descriptive (an “is”)… and why is that? Because it is our responsibility to ourselves to be comfortable, healthy, or happy. However, human well-being is all about human feelings and preferences, and is thus subjective.

Second, morality didn’t came from an Absolute Moral Law Giver.

To believe that a Moral Law Giver is necessary for morality makes morality meaningless. This also makes morality arbitrary. If you are familiar with the Euthyphro Dilemma (I though Mr. Awa already read this?) Plato (through Socrates) have already tackled the issue – so, let us look at it on the Judeo-Christian perspective:

On the pages of the Bible, it is said that God commanded his people “Thou Shall Not Kill.” Thus people like Mr. Awa who believe that morality is objective will say that God’s commandment makes killing wrong, thus making morality objective.

Then we read on the same book that God orders his people to kill their enemies.

Now, when God orders the killing, does this make killing a good act?
How about lying or stealing? The Bible said “Thou Shall Not Steal,” but if God orders the Hebrews to plunder their enemies, does this make stealing a good act? The Bible also said “Thou Shall Not Lie,” but if you lie to protect God’s people, does that make lying good?

Defining morality based on what God wants doesn’t make it objective. It only makes morality arbitrary, relative and meaningless.

Third, morality is not arbitrary.

Since morality is not based on the command of an Absolute Law Giver, then morality is not arbitrary. Subjective morality is not arbitrary since it is based on human feeling and human interaction. Human feeling is not arbitrary. There is always what we call as common good. Our feelings and attitudes are rooted in human nature, being a product of our evolutionary heritage, programmed by human genes.

Forth, morality is human made.

Our definition of right and wrong is purely based on how we humans define it. The universe is amoral, nature is amoral – it doesn’t care. When a lion attacked and kill a human being, it doesn’t have a notion whether its act is right or wrong. When an earthquake or a flood happens, it doesn’t have any moral judgement whether on what is right or wrong. Since humans define it, it is based on human opinion and consensus – thus it is subjective.

Well, that’s it folks. I guess I just put Mr. Awa’s case to rest… in peace.

Have a nice Sunday.

Until next time.
J.Paraiso