Saturday, February 23, 2013

Morality Update

There's a question that's been eating away at me for the past few days, and it has caused me to realize that I must concede a point with regard to morality.

Is morality objective or subjective?

It has been my position that morality is objective, because it is always based on happiness and suffering.  However, how people conceive of those ideas changes over time and varies by culture; those conceptions are subjective.  So I had concluded that morality is itself objective, but is subjectively applied.

But the question is:  Is that a useful distinction?

As you no doubt know, I believe that philosophy is useless if it cannot be empirically verified.  So the question becomes: How does morality, in my understanding, manifest itself in the real world?

Since it does vary over time within a culture, and among cultures at any given time, I must concede that, for all intents and purposes, morality is subjective.  Since this contradicts my previous claims, I have no option but to admit that I was incorrect on this issue.

This begs the question of whose conception of morality is the right one.  Well, if morality is subjective, then there is no right one.  Everyone must work out as individuals what they believe to be right and wrong, based on their own consciences.  To borrow an idea from Nietsche, each individual is his or her own moral authority.

However, humans have to live in societies to survive.  As a result, we have to work out rules for what individuals are and are not allowed to do; these take the form of laws.  So while individuals are free to do as they please according to their own sense of right and wrong, they are completely responsible for the consequences of their actions, including any societal or legal repercussions.

So that's what I've come to on this.  It's never easy to revise one's beliefs based on new information, but it's important to continue to examine and understand why we believe what we do.

A personal aside to Thoughts For Young Men:
If you're inclined to consider this a victory, please do.  It was your line of questioning that caused me to re-examine how I felt on this issue, ultimately resulting in my changing my tune. 

Well played, sir, and thank you for that.


  1. DVD Bach,

    Thank you for your post. I have appreciated our discussion. You are well aware of the fact that many people (on all sides) cannot even carry on a meaningful debate about these kinds of things because it quickly degenerates in emotional or other illogical arguments. I appreciate your willingness to think through the arguments and interact in a respectful, logical way.

    Having said that, I still don't agree with you, but I believe that you are now taking a more consistent position regarding morality. Why not go all the way and agree with me on the other issues we've discussed?

  2. Ha! We'll see... In the meantime, enjoy this one; you earned it.

  3. Nice job DVD Bach! Very honest. Rare quality these days.
    re-examining=not so bad