The Meaning of Objective and Subjective

What does objective mean? Objective means a mind-independent reality. That is, an objective feature of the universe is something that does not rely on my own – or anyone else’s – personal beliefs or feelings on the matter.

For example, gravity is an objective feature of the universe. It doesn’t matter how much I believe that I can fly, or how passionately I feel about it, when I leap unaided off the to of the building, I will come down. That is an objective fact. The claim that “the world is round” is an objective claim, and would be true even if everyone thought the world was flat. Similarly, If I were standing on a main highway, and you saw a truck speeding towards me, you would perhaps yell out “Get off the road, a big truck is coming!” If I then turned to you and said, “That may be true for you, but its not true for me,” it doesn’t really matter what I think, as the truck is an objective feature of the universe, unless circumstances change, I’ll soon be paste on the road.

So what is meant by objective moral virtues and duties is this: That it is bad and wrong to kill Jews and homosexuals, and even if Hitler had won the war, and succeeded in killing off or brainwashing all his opposition so that the whole world believed it was right, it would still be wrong. No matter what you personally believed about the matter, it would be wrong in that objective sense. Likewise, there are some things that are genuinely good and right, like loving your neighbour as yourself, caring for people who are suffering, generosity to those who are in need, and justice for the down-trodden, and these are all true in the objective sense.

Subjective, is precisely the opposite of objective. That is subjective belief relies on the individual. It is mind-dependant. For example, the statement “I am a man,” is an objective fact. The statement “I am here,” is a subjective fact as it’s truth relies on my own perspective. When morality is subjective, moral values and duties like “you should treat people with dignity and respect” become simply preferences of taste, equivalent to “I like chocolate over vanilla,” or “I hate television ads.”

It is clear then that subjectivism is an inadequate ethical system, not only practically but in truth as well. But that is for another time.

65 replies
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  1. simon
    simon says:

    Stuart,

    I think that moral values can be exposited like scientific ones can.

    The hook thing. Perhaps your views on the epistemology of morality gets you “off the hook” in that you can explain away changing morality in the bible. But changing morality, I think, simply does not jibe with an unchanging deity; he must retardedly withhold standards from peoples.

    Same question again: what is the ontological (meta-ethical / metaphysical) foundation for objective moral values and duties?

    The same that applies for naturalism. None. It is an empirical, internal, lifting-one’s-self-up-by-one’s-bootstraps affair. We inherantly know better science when we see it. The same applies or morality, I think.

  2. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Pertinent question:

    Simon said
    Do I believe in a mind-independant morality? Yes

    Does this mind-independent (objective) morality you believe in, change at all?

  3. Simon
    Simon says:

    Does this mind-independent (objective) morality you believe in, change at all?

    I suppose not, just like the physical objective world doesn’t seem to. But our best description of that objective morality is always on the march.

  4. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Actually the physical world does change. So could objective moral values and duties, and there would be no problem. All that is required for the moral argument to succeed is their existence.

  5. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Simon, you keep switching what you are saying.

    Contradiction: No – objective morality, Yes – objective morality
    In (45), you say

    “But the answer using you-two’s definition of ‘objective’ is ‘cross’ – there is no completely objective morality!”

    Then in (49) and (54), you directly contradict this by saying there is and further to that, an unchanging objective morality.

    “Do I believe in a mind-independant morality? Yes”

    Some of your previous statements that contradict your ‘new’ position
    ”morality is derived from genes and environment” (19)
    Certainly, naturalism demands that genes and environment lead to morality (19)
    morality is completely dependant on the physical. (25)
    It is a trivial stretch that we are made entirely from genes/the universe (29)

    I exit the conversation. I cannot logically deal with someone who is not logical.

    —-
    Irrelevant Side Issues

    1. My apologies for my previous comment that you took as sarcastic (but then didn’t). I was going for ‘friendly’. Apparently I failed. Yet your response has helped me to be more careful. So thanks.

    2. You are very good are throwing red herrings. They have no bearing on whether the topical claim is true or false. Your persistence is admirable, but illogical.

    —-
    @ Stuart, your conciseness, logical nature and clarity are appreciated as always. Keep sharing.

  6. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Jonathan

    I really appreciate your style as well. And I think bowing out is the wisest thing to do. It’s abundantly clear for others reading in that Simon’s ethical musings aren’t clearly thought through. You keep it up as well. :-)

  7. Simon
    Simon says:

    Oh, yes, I think I should have used the word ‘description’. there is no completely objective description of morality

    But I said much earlier (29) that I thought that the edict “Do not murder” was almost (quite) objective. And like the physical world we can approach objectivity in the moral world.

    Jonathan,

    I don’t think that morality being derived from genes means that it can’t be mind-independant.

  8. Andrew W
    Andrew W says:

    Simon, why do you believe in objective morality?

    We inherantly know better science when we see it. The same applies or morality, I think.

    That sounds like you’re a believer in common sense, I’m not, there are too many examples of what was inherently believed to be true (and I think objective morality falls into this category) that science later proved false – often against die-hard opposition from the then old-school.

    Who inherently knew the sun was at the centre of the solar system, or Darwinian evolution, or Einsteinian relativety, or plate tectonics?

  9. simon
    simon says:

    Andrew,

    Simon, why do you believe in objective morality?

    I think that the fact that there are certain principles which people all the world over hold to shows that our genes lead to those principles. Those principles are therefore objective in the same way that it is objective that “people like sweet food”.

  10. Andrew W
    Andrew W says:

    Simon,
    The definition I use for subjective vs objective morality is this from Dr Berggren: “by objective morality is meant a moral view which claims that there exists a morality which is external to human beings. Much like the existence of a law of gravity, there is a moral law which exists independently of any conscious being. Hence, morality is not a human fabrication – it merely awaits to be detected. In contrast, subjective morality denotes the view that moral views are nothing but human opinions, the origin of which is biological, social, and psychological. Without conscious beings, there would be no such thing as morality.

    By this definition, moral principles that arise as a consequence of genetics are subjective, different genes, different moral principles.

  11. Simon
    Simon says:

    Andrew,

    I’m just not sure I agree with the demarcation. After all, the laws of physics from which our DNA springs is just like the law of gravity – it just happens. I kind of a gree, that morality is subjective in that it is not some entity external to humans; it takes the existence of a human to become manifest, but on the other hand I think that it is no fluke that morality appears as it does; the term subjective makes it seem as though it could be otherwise – it could be the complete opposite. But I don’t think it could be the complete opposite; social animals were always going to give rise to a certain kind of morality, a kind of morality which is embodied by the phrase “do unto others…”, and in the sense that social animals were always going to evolve a morality of this form…..it is an objective thing, that morality, I think.

  12. Andrew W
    Andrew W says:

    Simon,
    I think what you’re talking about is a sort of convergent moral evolution. If we hypothesis that other intelligent species exist in the universe, with similarly structured societies to ours, it seems likely that they would have very similar moral principles, that sounds reasonable.

    But what about intelligent species with drastically different biologies and societal structures? How about a species with a hive society, with different forms of the same species having different characteristics, with a Queen making all the decisions? What about a society in which separate (barely) sentient species have been breed as servants/slaves, are happy with their lot, and aren’t capable of independent survival? How about a species in which the two genders (assuming two genders) have hugely different characteristics?

    How are their probably very different moral codes supposed to fit with your definition of objective morality?

  13. Alan
    Alan says:

    I’m not bothered by the objective discussion of morality but what bothers me is the lack of recognition to the subjective mind as if it’s inferior to the objective for we should remember all things are created subjectively before they are invented objectively for this is the birthplace of creation and the subjective mind itself proves creation itself

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