Uncommon Sense

August 17, 2016

Objective Morality, Really?

I have been reading a number of recent blog posts regarding the topic of objective versus subjective moralities. The usual terms are thrown around: “illusory,” “fictional,” “delusional,” etc. I am amazed that this discussion continues.

The only thing of value regarding a moral system is whether or not people will follow it on with actual behavior. A beautiful conceptual framework that everyone ignores is useless as only through behaviors can such a system be identified. Consider slavery: throughout the bulk of human history slavery was considered an acceptable practice, supported by myriad individuals, governments, and religions. Today it is universally considered immoral and anyone practicing it is considered a criminal. Slavery used to be moral, now it is not.

I had to look up definitions of the word “objective” because I thought maybe the discussants were using different definitions and hence the confusion and arguments. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary “objective” has the following applicable meanings:

1bof, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers :  having reality independent of the mind <objective reality> <our reveries … are significantly and repeatedly shaped by our transactions with the objective world — Marvin Reznikoff> — compare subjective

3aexpressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations <objective art> <an objective history of the war> <an objective judgment>

Okay, if there is such a thing as “objective morality,” allow me to suggest an experiment. At the snap of my fingers all of the people on the planet disappear. (Obviously this is a “thought experiment.”) A lone alien explorer lands his ship on the planet to investigate what happened. It quickly discovers that we called our planet Earth (and a bunch of other names), and that history stopped abruptly on August 17, 2016. Question: would they be able to find this “objective morality” if that was their primary interest? If so, what would it be?

When a believer in objective morality can answer these questions, I will begin to consider the existence of an objective morality. I will even help a Western theist of a Christian bent begin: the first question’s answer would be “It would be found in the Holy Bible,” of course. That is what I would expect they would say. But they have to go on. What would the alien researcher read that would delineate a moral system that was objective? (Please note that “because God said so” is not an objective statement.)

Please note whether the alien researcher would find evidence of large numbers of people following this system. Please include the moral instruction from your source regarding slavery in your answer.

I’ll wait.


  1. There is no objective anything. We’d have to live in a closed system for that word to be even vaguely meaningful. Even if something like panpsychism is true (and it’s certainly possible, if not plausible), we are only ever moving forward towards a better tomorrow.


    Comment by john zande — August 17, 2016 @ 7:03 pm | Reply

    • It think there are objects (rocks, trees, plants, etc.). But treating social systems as if they were akin to objects … objectively is nonsense.

      The problem with arguments in this vein is that they are dominated by the subtexts. I am working on a series of posts trying to do an “end run” on the current mode of discourse. I eagerly await your verdict as to how successful I am.

      On Wed, Aug 17, 2016 at 7:03 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — August 17, 2016 @ 7:08 pm | Reply

      • I’m certain the series will be great.

        But trees and rocks are not static. Trees grow and die, rocks erode. I’ve been to the top of Mount Kosciuszko in Australia many times. It’s our highest mountain, although it’s just over 2,000 meters high.A hill. A mound. It (or somethign close to it) was, however, once taller than Everest.Of course, this is not news to you, but nothing is static.There are no objectives in nature, so trying to shoehorn some nebulous idea of “morality” into this picture is an exercise in muscular silliness.

        Which reminds me, this is a bit from my new book which seems sort of pertinent here.

        What is this universe, after all, but a working example of what hydrogen can do if given a few rules and 13.82 billion years to play with gravity?
        We are all hydrogen’s diaspora.
        We are all, quite literally, discrete, momentarily unique incidents in that first elements free roaming, snowballing adventure. From helium to humans, battle plans to lazy afternoon sea breezes, everything in this universe of hard stuff and nebulous things is nothing but increasingly complex datum points in a billions years-long migration of the simplest of all matter.


        Comment by john zande — August 18, 2016 @ 5:40 am | Reply

        • An object has to be static? Nothing is static. To be objective is to accept other “things” as being real and as being what they are. When we take from ourselves to delineate what those other things are, then we are being subjective.

          Like you I have no problem being a being of chance, not being designed, not being the plaything of some supernatural power. Trying to be objective (is it even possible?) is simply a manifestation of what we are.

          On Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 5:40 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:


          Liked by 1 person

          Comment by Steve Ruis — August 18, 2016 @ 7:52 am | Reply

          • Yes, meaningful only in a local context, and only at a specific time.


            Comment by john zande — August 18, 2016 @ 9:15 am | Reply

            • Yup!

              On Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 9:15 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



              Comment by Steve Ruis — August 18, 2016 @ 9:22 am | Reply

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