This always comes up eventually, in one of a couple of ways.
- Assertions of moral codes based on some belief system, like religious doctrine or democracy.
- Assertions that there are no moral rights or wrongs, because all such are subjective (see #1).
For the former, simply admonish them to consult [insert alternative belief system or doctrines]. For the latter, punch them in the face and see how fast they implicitly conclude it was objectively wrong to do so. Actions speak louder than words. It’s primarily #2 that I wish to address, since it came up in a comment thread the other day. But let’s first dispense with #1.
Subjective morality inevitably violates objective morality
Ironic, eh? Subjective morality, simply stated, is a set of moral dos and don’ts based on some authority and their commandments. Some doG, a book with holes, king, president, legislature, etc. It’s subjective because it doesn’t apply to all earthlings, so the only way to enforce it is through initiatory force. Or: ‘my doG is the one true doG; all others are impostors, their followers infidels; their moral codes don’t apply to me, and they must be compelled to obey mine and my doG’s.’ For secularists, this subjectivity generally translates to the ‘political salvation of mankind;’ whereby, morality is a function of bigger mobs: so long as the wolves outnumber the sheep in a decision over what’s for dinner, it’s a moral use of force.
This is all purely subjective; meaning, it relies upon which of differing belief systems one ascribes. It violates objective morality because force must be initiated against those of differing belief systems in order to maintain the integrity of the moral system.
People routinely conflate objective morality with subjective morality
To their credit, those ascribing to #2 recognize that virtually all the “morality” they see spouted round and about planet Earth is of the subjective variety, and [to be generous], “logically” conclude that there’s no such thing as moral rights and wrongs.
They’re wrong, though understandably so, given the observable landscape.
How to derive Objective Morality
It’s actually rather simple, given the foregoing. First, everything that’s subjective—99.9% what most seem to think they know about morality—is out. Since such subjectivity doesn’t apply to all—i.e., objectively—and can only be enforced, because others have other beliefs…it’s not “universal.” It doesn’t naturally apply to all human beings on planet Earth without some force forcing others to compliance.
Humans don’t automatically pursue the values needed to survive (food, water, shelter, even social relationships—we are social beings). This is the absolute root and the only possible foundation for any sense of a universal objective morality that applies equally to all human beings.
Humans must ultimately choose to live and pursue the values necessary to do so, and the fact that they have such choice (fundamentally, moral questions turn on choices; where there is no choice, it’s not the province of morality) is manifest in the fact of conscious human suicide: either by act or omission, fast or slow. In other words, “choose life” is a meme that only applies to conscious, competent human beings.
Since this choice is an observable human attribute, it’s a natural choice; or, stated alternatively, a right. There’s only one natural right: the right to pursue values necessary for survival—the right to choose to live; which, for humans, necessarily implies a right to choose. Everything else is a corollary, the chief one being: ‘at your own expense,’ since true contradictions don’t exist in nature. Pursuing a human life comes with a P&L. If at its end, you’re in the black, you’ve been a natural human being; minimally, one breaks even (dies poor). If in the red, you’ve lived a human life as a parasite, reliant either upon the goodwill of others, or like a sociopath—a minor one as a predator, or a major one, like a politician.
…So, for instance, the right to own possessions is a moral right, because some autonomy over possessions is generally required to non-contradictorily exercise a pursuit of the values necessary to live—if you’ve exercised the natural human choice to live, rather than default to destruction, or off yourself consciously.
Most basically, the moral is simply that which is objectively good for the human organism; the immoral is that which is objectively bad
This is where the conflation with subjective morality typically arises, and so gets dismissed by the #2s. So let’s explore it in the context of objective morality. Keep in mind: for something to be objectively moral, it has to apply to everyone, as fundamentals, and necessary for their pursuit of their natural right to CHOOSE to live.
- Food is good.
- Water is good.
- Shelter is good.
- A plot of land to grow food or hunt is good.
- An enterprise with which to engage in division of labor and trade is good.
- The freedom to associate with other human moral agents is good. We are social beings and while not impossible to live a life as a totally autonomous agent, it’s unlikely to succeed, and humanely unnatural.
- Lethal self defense is good.
- Lethal defense of those who valuably contribute to your own survival is good.
- Drugs, alcohol, risk taking and other forms of slow or fast suicide are amoral. Remember, the objectively moral choice to live subsumes this (e.g., all subjective moral drug laws violate objective morality).
- Preferring the color green over blue, beef over pork, or Chevys over Fords, is amoral.
- Initiatory predation upon others is bad. Having your cake and eating it too is a natural contradiction. You can’t assert your right to ‘choose to live’, while denying other humans who all have the exact same natural standing the very same choice; denying theirs, to assert yours. This is all the province of the subjectivist moralizers with their authorities in fancy robes and hats, whose essential purpose in life and affectation is to overcome your sense of objective morality by their authoritarian, subjective morality.
- Nickelback is bad. :)
I could make the list longer, but I hope you get the point a bit. Objective morality is pretty easy and concrete. Since it has to apply to all humans, and all humans to some extent hold different values beyond the raw necessity to survive. As such, people tend to find my formulation less than satisfying. After all, it’s tough to resist violating the prime directive of objective morality: living life at your own expense, dealing mutually voluntarily with others as traders on various levels financial, social, emotional, and intimate.
Virtually everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else, now. They craft “moral” codes to make it seem right, even. These are all subjective. So, again, you see the understandable position of the #2s.
Objective morality does not encompass all values you choose to hold. Brace yourselves.
- No: fetuses, infants, and even children or ‘mental children,’ unable to yet consciously live at their own expense, are not party to objective morality. In such terms, they are the property and possessions of those with objective moral agency. Yep, objective morality has absolutely nothing to say about what you do with that property. That’s the province of subjective morality (or simply: good will). Damn, you mean there are limitations to everything, not easy answers to everything and I have to weigh my values, my life P&L? That’s right.
- Emergency or ‘lifeboat’ scenarios don’t apply to objective morality. Perhaps, if all humans were in a lifeboat, it would. but we aren’t, so it doesn’t. (Back 23-20 years ago, hammering out my ideas in various USENET forums, lifeboat and prisoner’s dilemma scenarios were all the rage as exceptions. My attitude was always: so let them be exceptions.) In other words, if the situation or resources are such that it’s you or someone else, then what CHOICE do you have? Accordingly, objective morality doesn’t apply. Or, stated as a logical corollary: you are all now faced with the same non-choice. You’re on your own, morally—this is truly valid subjective morality, for once.
One province of subjective morality is that it necessarily requires pitting some people against other people (while lying about that: i.e., politics). It’s really the whole point, because subjective morality is the craft of authoritarian middlemen and in that realm: War is Good (just read The Bible).
So, when people are pitted against one-another, and in a moral context, this is intuitively— or at least implicitly—threatening to you and yours (your objective moral sense), what do you do? You vote to go to war, kill lots of people, destroy lots of property, render thousands of children parentless, enslave, imprison, and put to death. All because: either, their subjective code differs from yours in ways you deem important (and you want to save their souls or please your doG—always ambiguous, that), or you’ve been scared into believing you’re threatened and an authority is what you need to allow you to feel good about killing others and leaving theirs, destitute.
Call it ‘fuzzy morality,’ in the context of your innate sense of objective morality, in terms of your social agency; your “choice” to live with the mutually beneficial help of others in your circle willing to kill and maim for you.
What objective morality really is
It’s the very same thing as expressing, in terms of competent, conscious human action: Hey, that goes against nature!
So, this is why the formulation: the moral is that which is objectively good for the human organism; the immoral is that which is objectively bad.
Well, that’s easy, right? Well, no it’s not, because other than like the first 3 things on my list, above, the others are fraught with disagreement on various levels. On the other hand, very, very many of the disagreements are founded on subjective morality, such as the democratic idea that the minority is the spoil of the majority.
In sort, it’s nearly impossible to deflate the conflation of notions of objective and subjective morality. So long as people want to live at the expense of others and are happy to hire hit men and enforcers in voting booths, this will always be the case.