Objective Morality – Nature and Necessity – Is there any such thing as objective morality or is everyone free to just set and follow personal moral standards?
If there is no objective morality why should habitual liars or anyone for that matter, be expected to speak the truth, always or even almost always?
If the rightness or wrongness of acts, motives/attitudes depend on how individuals feel then morality is hopelessly subjective and everyone has a right to do as one pleases. Objective morality rescues us from this dilemma.
But what is meant by objective morality? The ‘objective’ in objective morality simply means independent of any particular person’s feelings and value judgments on the moral issue in question.
As Philosopher Paul Copan says “…morality is objective in that it isn’t a function of individual or cultural preferences, opinions, or responses. Morality is objective in that it is recognized and discovered rather than invented by humans.” (“True for you but not for me”, p. 44)
Rationally considered, objective morality makes moral dialogue and debate possible, interpersonally, nationally and internationally and makes sense of moral obligation (a sense of duty to do what is right and avoid what is wrong).
If objective morality is rejected then there remains no defensible basis for moral criticism and we would be forced to grin and bear anything since we have no yardstick for evaluating any act, motive or attitude. It would be like playing soccer without goal-markers: you kick around (even enjoyably) but never really score.
But are religious folk the only moral persons? Christians, at times, make the mistake of saying that unless one believes in God one cannot be a morally upright person.
Can there be morally upright atheists? Yes, but they certainly would have difficulties providing a non-subjective basis for their morality minus God. Yet, even so, it is possible for them to exhibit good standards or morality in spite of their atheistic worldview.
Non-theists, at times, make the mistake of despairing about objective morality because of the differences in values in different societies and even within the same society. I’ll illustrate shortly.
We must distinguish though between a clash of fact and a clash of values.
For example, many persons in India do not eat cows because they believe in the doctrine of reincarnation and so, for them, the cows possess the souls of dead humans. Those who eat cows in Jamaica do not believe that cows possess the souls of the dead.
One could mistakenly see a critical moral or values difference between Indians and Jamaicans even though neither culture believes it is okay to eat a human person. The Indian who avoids eating cows believes that a cow could be another form of a human being. What we have here is a difference of fact not a difference of morals or values.
Roman Catholic Philosopher, Francis Beckwith in his book Politically Correct Death (pages 21-22), provides yet another example, the Salem USA witch trials of the 17th century. The folk in Salem thought that the practice of witchcraft was fatal to community life but we don’t hold that view today though we, like the residents of Salem, value the common good of a community.
Without the reality of objective morality societal mores and values (and even positive laws which are all objective moral censors) become meaningless. Further, without objective morality moral outrage would logically be a thing of the distant past and a cruel societal option then lurks near.