Some argue that religion is important because it establishes a set of rules that cannot be broken no matter what. If religion establishes objective morality, then that means that there is some inherent truth that certain actions, i.e. murder, are always wrong. If morality is subjective, theists argue, than there are no inherently good or evil actions, and good and bad ultimately come down to opinion, and one person’s opinion is as good as any other person’s opinion.
However, I argue that subjective morality is far better than Christian objective morality because it allows us to create a nuanced and flexible moral system that focuses on WHY an action is good or bad as opposed to blindly holding an action to be bad without any grounding reason aside from “the rules say so.” It allows us to recognize that there are moral gray areas, and lets us work around those.
To be more specific, I will use utilitarianism as my example of a useful system of subjective morality.
Under utilitarianism a person should always seem to cause the greatest good for the greatest number of people, while avoiding as much harm as possible. Let us look at some actions and see what objective biblical morality says about these actions, versus what utilitarianism says.
Under biblical morality, one must not kill under any circumstances. Some interpret the commandment to be “thou shalt not murder.” Under this system, one would be wrong for killing a serial killer in cold blood. Self defense might be permissible, as self defense is not murder. However, if you aren’t actually defending someone, and you just show up at the serial killer’s house one day and shoot him in cold blood, this is murder. You are morally in the wrong for doing it, no matter how right it may feel.
Under utilitarianism, by contrast, one could argue that in killing the serial killer you have stopped him from committing more murders. You have caused harm, but you have alleviated far more harm than you have caused. However, in most cases killing someone is not right as it causes unnecessary suffering for personal gain. Subjective morality allows us to alleviate more harm and align our actions with our basic sense of empathy far more than “objective” morality does.
Now consider genocide. Under “objective” morality genocide is permissible in certain circumstances.
” This is what the LORD Almighty says: `I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.
Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy  everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'”
Killing infants is permissible under objective morality so long as god commands it.
However, a utilitarian could argue that genocide is never justifiable. The amount of harm caused by murdering an entire group of people including infants, who are by definition completely innocent of any crime, is far greater than any good you could possibly gain from it, if any. The pain and suffering of hundreds of thousands to millions of people just for revenge will not gain anything and will not benefit the greatest number of people. Personally I would rather go with the moral philosophy that does not permit genocide.
What of pedophilia? You may be interested to know that the Bible does not ever condemn child marriage or sex with children. Under the supposedly objective Christian morality pedophilia is not wrong.
However, under utilitarianism we can argue that children are a vulnerable group without much power. They are not mature enough to consent and do not have as much power or autonomy as an adult. Therefore they must be protected from adults who would manipulate and harm them.
The Bible condones slavery, and kidnapping women and forcing them into marriage. This list of things the Bible permits goes on and on. Moreover, if biblical morality is objective it cannot be questioned. We cannot argue that one rule is wrong or unfair.
With utilitarianism however, we can use objective data to show how many people are likely to be harmed or helped by a certain action. We can argue or debate over what is right and wrong, and we can arrive at conclusions based on logic, rather than blind obedience.
Just because an opinion is subjective, this does not mean that certain opinions are not better or more justified than others. There is no objective rule stating that poking a sleeping bear with a stick is worse than simply leaving it alone. One could argue that it is merely your opinion that sleeping bears should be left alone. However, we could also argue that the severe mauling you would receive is probably not something you, or most people, would want. There isn’t anything objectively bad about being mauled, but we can point to the undesirable consequences of the mauling and argue that these are convincing reasons not to poke the bear. The opinion to let the bear alone is more well justified.
It may be just an opinion that murder is wrong, but it’s a well reasoned one. I don’t want to be murdered. I don’t want my family and friends to be murdered. We’d all probably like to live in a world where we are less likely to be murdered, and making murder illegal ensures less suffering and harm in general. Perhaps that is all opinion, but I’d like to hear someone attempt to argue that unnecessary harm is somehow good or desirable.
It is scary to think that objective morality doesn’t exist. However, it is necessary to recognize this in order to move forward and progress. Just like it might be scary for an elementary school child to start going to school without their parents, it is a necessary step. While it may be more comforting for them to stay home, they need to take the next step to grow as a person. Likewise, humans need to come to terms with the fact that there are no hard and fast sets of rules that apply to all situations. There is no perfect rulebook laid out by god. It might be nice if there were, but we all need to grow up and start making moral decisions for ourselves. I we refuse to do it because it is uncomfortable then we end up with rules that hurt more people than they help, and we have backwards and regressive laws against homosexuality, contraception etc.
There’s a few fundamental errors here:
1. Objective morality is the idea that at least some moral claims have subject-independent truth values: they are true or false regardless of what individuals think or how they feel. Subjective morality is the idea that the truth value of moral claims are always subject-dependent and precisely depend on what individuals think or feel. So when you say “Just because an opinion is subjective, this does not mean that certain opinions are not better or more justified than others” — that’s wrong, that’s exactly what subjective morality means.
2. Objective morality does not necessarily consist of universal rules about types of behaviour. For example, it might not be objectively true that killing is always wrong, but it might be objectively true that killing under certain sorts of circumstances is wrong. (You actually seem to say as much: “Under “objective” morality genocide is permissible in certain circumstances” contradicting your earlier statement that “objective morality… means that there is some inherent truth that certain actions, i.e. murder, are always wrong”.)
3. You are treating utilitarianism as basically the same thing as subjective morality. In fact utilitarianism is the idea that actions are *objectively* right or wrong insofar as they maximize the net pleasure in the world; it is a particular normative theory built on the idea of objective morality.
4. You are treating objective morality as basically the same thing as divine command theory. In fact divine command theory is just one normative theory, far more popular ones are utilitarianism (classically associated with Bentham and Mill), virtue ethics (Aristotle), and deontological ethics (Kant). Also note that religious people do not necessarily advocate divine command theory.
So as written everything in the post is incorrect, but if we correct those misunderstandings your thesis could be restated as: “objective morality is true, and utilitarianism is a better normative theory than divine command theory.” However, there’s some problems here too. You say:
>However, a utilitarian could argue that genocide is never justifiable. The amount of harm caused by murdering an entire group of people including infants, who are by definition completely innocent of any crime, is far greater than any good you could possibly gain from it, if any.
In fact a utilitarian would have to say genocide is justifiable if it increases the net pleasure in the world, regardless of concepts like innocence or justice (except insofar as these might happen to coincide with that). Of course in the real world genocide certainly seems to increase human misery, but a utilitarian would have to grant that if this weren’t the case, genocide would be good. We can come up with thought experiments: what if a particular ethnic group was thoroughly miserable, and some other ethnic group could painlessly destroy them and would be unbelievably happy to do so? That would remove a lot of misery from the world, and create a lot of pleasure. But of course, we tend to think that genocide even under such circumstances would actually be hideously wrong.
>However, under utilitarianism we can argue that children are a vulnerable group without much power. They are not mature enough to consent and do not have as much power or autonomy as an adult. Therefore they must be protected from adults who would manipulate and harm them.
Again, a utilitarian thinks that the good consists only of maximizing net pleasure. Consent is not relevant (except, again, insofar as it happens to coincide with that).
Isn’t the biggest problem with subjective morality that anyone can decide what’s morale?
Utilitarians believe in objective morality. Under utilitarian, it is objectively the case that you should increase the amount of happiness in the world. It is not a matter of opinion- if a person or culture thinks increasing happiness is not good, they are objectively wrong about the true and eternal nature of morality, which is to increase maximum happiness in every situation.
*Objective* morality is not *absolute* morality. Objective morality can hold that there is nuance, as utilitarianism shows. “It is wrong to steal when more of the following conditions apply then don’t: you don’t need the thing you’re stealing, stealing causes the person you’re stealing from serious harm, you have other methods of helping yourself beyond stealing, you use violence to do so,….” is as much objective morality is “never steal ever”
If objective morality existed, and it meant that an act was objectively, factually “good”, then by definition it would be more good than subjective morality, which is just a opinion.
Essentially, if objectively morality existed, even if the objective morals appear twisted, they would metaphysically be objective facts about reality and therefore would have to be more correct/more “good” than opinions about what is good or not.
And amorality is better than subjective morality (objective morality just can’t exist, this objective subjective distinction is useless)
> Under utilitarianism a person should always seem to cause the greatest good for the greatest number of people, while avoiding as much harm as possible.
It is as dogmatic as religious morality then
What if one doesn’t care about the majority of people? Why should they? You can’t derive “should” from “is” until a clear goal is already respected and there are ways of bringing about it
For people who care about everybody, such a goal makes sense, for many it doesn’t (you can call us psychopaths or evil, but that’s just your judgement; also examine first your motives behind decisions, whom about do you really care)
So utilitarian logic is cool, but we can’t just treat “utility” as “the greatest good for the greatest population” – there are many “utilities”, conflicting interests and ideologies. When we enter the realm of conflict subjective or group interests, it’s not morality but politics or something
Bonus argument for egoism: nobody understands your interests better than yourself, thus if people first pursue each their own interest, they will fullfill more of them than if they first care about another (whom they understand much worse then themselves)
> “*Killing infants is permissible under objective morality so long as god commands it.*”
Objective morality doesn’t exist. If the christian god says that someone should be killed, then that’s just his opinion. Just like if the Aztec war god Quetzalcoatl says to kill someone, that’s his opinion. Something isn’t objective, just because a god has an opinion. If a moral is based on opinions, then it’s subjective.
Survival is not subjective, because we know what leads to better health and continued survival, but basing morality on survival is still subjective. It’s just a subjective morality that supports the natural survival instinct that exists in human beings. Human beings are social creatures and living in a society together where it is illegal to kill and steal, leads to better well-being for the human beings living in that society. That type of morality based on the well-being of human beings and the survival of human societies, is healthier than biblical morality.
[I don’t interpret the Scripture as claiming that God approved of genocide.](https://thomism.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/the-amalekite-massacre-as-a-failure-of-israels-obligation/)
It’s not ‘either / or’. There is some limited objective moral reality (imo). My understanding of morality is laws or social precedents / accepted modes of behaviour meant to best instruct humans on how to cooperate for the benefit of the group. So if we differ on this definition, I guess the rest of it is pointless, but suggesting you subscribe to that definition, I’d say there are some base objective moralities. One might be it’s objectively immoral to rape a baby. You could come up with a scenario where having sex with your 13 year old daughter is subjectively moral. Like you’re the last human male on Earth, about to die, and only have daughters. Maybe it’s imperative then to do such a thing. I mean obviously I’m stretching to come up with how that could be plausibly acceptable. But even in such a case, a baby doesn’t work. There’s never a situation for that. So in that sense, it is an objective morality to not rape babies. Sorry I picked a gross example, but it’s the most illustrative of the point. Subjective morality is layered on top of some core objective morality. The more a culture differentiates based on circumstance, the more subjective it becomes. Subjectively large nations going to war is morally right for both sides in many circumstances. But again, that only happens once layers and layers of culture have developed. Monkeys don’t have morals in such a context because they’re at that base level with no layers of culture. No subjectivity. Don’t know if that makes any sense to you. Works in my head…
It’s funny how subjective the applications of ‘objective morality’ become so quickly.
“Thou Shalt Not Kill” – pretty unambiguous. Every Christian in the U.S. should come out against the 2nd amendment, the NRA and gun manufacturers because anything less would be to claim that citizens are entitled to use lethal force, contrary to the 6th commandment.
Sure, recent translations changed it to ‘murder’ not ‘kill’ but the difference is subjective not objective. 😉
I fear you slightly misunderstand objective and subjective morality, as well as straw man christian ethics.
For 1) Objective morality can and often does include factoring in the why. Deontology versus utilitarian ethics is an ever continuing argument in moral philosophy going on for literal hundreds of years. And it is an argument that goes beyond just Christian ethics.
2) Utilitarianism is a really good system but it has problems. For example, who decides how to quantify good in comparison to another? Who defines harm? This gets really complicated really fast and begins to break down.
Further, and this is where you kind of shoot yourself. If you say, as it seems you are, “utilitarianism can use objective data to show how many people are harmed or helped.” You are in essence proposing an objective moral system here, where instead of the universal framework being “bible” you are replacing it with “mathematical logical data”, you are also removing the subject from making their own moral decisions.
So is your issue subjective versus objective, or utilitarian versus Christian? Cause those are different things. Christian ethics is definitely objective, utilitarianism doesn’t have to be, but the one you are describing certainly reads as being objective, meaning “determined outside the influence of subjective influence”. Because I’d you allowed for subjective influence, then you couldn’t say you can apply reason to determine the value of good because now you are again appealing to an objective frame of reference.
Tl;dr moral systems are for more complicated then your post accounts for.
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