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.

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