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Is morality "subjective"?

Recently I had a little discussion with somebody who claimed that morality comes from within and that it is (therefore) totally subjective.

I think that this claim is based on a misunderstanding. Just because we as citizens of a Western, liberal society can choose and adopt our moral values and rules, that does not mean that they come from within or are subjective. If they were, it would be up to any individual either to create or to sample his or her own morality, just as any DJ can create pieces of music by sampling from jazz, hip-hop, techno and even folk-music. No problem with that.

Even if we leave aside the question whether I am really free to choose my moral values and rules, or if - as I think - that this choice is largely determined by my character, my peer-group and other influences, a moral system - unlike a piece of pop-music - has to be coherent and consistent. Just image a liberal like, say, Michelle Obama announcing that she has become a member of the NRA, and that she now holds homosexuality to be "against nature", probably even a sin. People would wonder if she is out of her mind.
Now if morality really came from "within", it would be a result of my personal whims and predilections, and there is no reason why my whims should show any coherence or consistency (after all I can watch a splatter movie tonight and tomorrow go to a concert listening to a string quartet from Mozart).

Therefore moral values and rules exist "out there", they are not objective like the moon, but they have a status that is beyond personal whims and predilections. I am (more or less) "free" to choose or adopt among existing moral systems (i.e. values and rules), but I am not their origin, which would be the case if they were "subjective" and that they "come from within".

Another point liberal Westerners tend to forget: That we are able to leave the moral world of our family in order go "shopping around" in the market of existing moral systems is a privilege and an exception; it is not typical for morality as such. My guess is that if the vast majority of all people of the present or the past abandoned the moral system of their group (family, caste, class, village...) they suffered severe consequences, from being just the village weirdo, to being ostracized or even killed ("honor killings" ). Those who take the moral world of the USA or Germany (as they are today!) to be representative for humankind in general must be really blinkered.

Therefore the claim that morality is subjective is wrong, from a philosophical and from an anthropological point of view. Morality is a social phenomenon, even today in liberal societies.

Matias 8 Jan 28

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Argue all you want. I'm not into it. Especially not with the sheep. It only results in a redundant and cyclical waste of time.

The photo rings I've attached certainly rings true. Funny how he mentions idle fancies and the majority who disagree are fanciful idealists (whether they see it or admit it) hahahaha.


Maybe the answer depends on your concept of subjective/objective. IMO reality is subjective on a fundamental level and the sense of objectivity is illusory. If consciousness is primary and we are extensions of that universal consciousness maybe our sense of self as an individual body is also illusory.

In theory a group of unaware, robotic bodies could develop a set of rules for group behavior but no set of rules can cover every situation and that set of rules will inevitably be self contradictory. So from the perspective of one of the bodies morality is both objective and subjective—mostly objective but subject to individual interpretation.

From the perspective of our common self, Universal Consciousness, objectivity does not even appear. If a particular body allows itself to be led into certain actions by conscious awareness, it might appear to the other bodies that someone is abrogating illegal power, when actually the person is acting from a higher level morality shared by all. That’s why I try not to judge ill the actions of other people.


As a former student of philosophy, I am used to taking bits and pieces - thoughts and ideas - from other thinkers, and piece them together to create a belief of my own, adding my own ideas to the mix. Much like cooking - making an omelette or burrito. A little of this, a little of that - test and taste and see if it makes sense, feels right - if it works. The same is true for building a personal moral system. I take some thinking from Buddhist thought, from humanist thought, from atheistic thought, from American pragmatism, and I view these things through the lens of my own experience and viewpoint. Then BAM! I have come up with my own personal moral system. It is informed by experience - my own and others - and filtered through the lens of societal pressure, expectation, equity, and belief.
There is joy in creating and owning it yourself. But part of the system I have created requires that it is constantly open to revision if a more workable idea presents itself.


It's not entirely one or the other. The forces of evolution exist as an objective fact entirely independent of our subjectivity, but evolution "chose" to allow morality to have its purchase on us through the subjective mechanisms of conscience and our sensitivity to social norms. Variability and flexibility are built into the system. We are not forced to obey (clearly, immoral acts do happen) and some individuals feel the subjective call of morality more strongly than others. Likewise, the particular manifestation varies somewhat from one culture to the next. But most individuals from all societies possess the basic subjective machinery that delivers the objective influence of evolution's morality. So our genetic predisposition (within) makes us feel (subjective) that we must, in varying degrees, adhere to what our conscience (within) is telling us to do, according to the particular dictates of our culture (out there) and, ultimately, evolution (objective).

skado Level 9 Jan 28, 2019

Morality flows out of a normative culture, where one finds oneself. The rules, ideals, and desires we have come from others. If we are free agents then we must freely accept the laws of the land (what is natural thereby becomes civil), we can only be morally bound by laws that we have freely given to ourselves.

Are there objective aspects to morality, perhaps. We are all human, the same sun shines here as elsewhere, and there is a concept of human nature in which all humans subscribe to certain rules of conduct such as a prohibition against unjustified killing.

The methodology by which we apply our rules of conduct is subjective. Socrates in Plato's Gorgias says that he would rather be out of tune with the whole world than be out of tune with himself. This is the concept of moral balance

cava Level 7 Jan 28, 2019

Morality is by definition subjective as it is a man made construct. Simple enough to look at those who believe a god has written the moral laws. Use Abrahanic religions and note even tidy the differences from cultures: ie, one that will chop of witches heads or stone adulterers. Or, historically, see last example and for near to US history think slavery.
For social order, most societies don't accept murder. Yet, in certain old societies in Africa and the Americas as late as the 1800's, murdererers were cast out as punishment as the society itself would not kill one of its own.
There are tons of examples. Difficult to run tests on a group of babies and see how they would end up with no guidance since humans cannot survive alone.

@Matias ?Sapiens is on my to read soon list.


No it isn't.


Morality comes from the structure of the society that you live in. This explains why there are moral differences in other areas of our world and also explains why American morals have evolved since earlier times. Look at it and you can see changes in morality in your own lifetime. Nobody arrived and just gave you something. Nothing static was implanted within you so would have a ready made system of morality.


It is both subjective and imposed. Society has a set of morals which will change with time. We choose to accept these to a larger or lesser degree. Some are quite ridgid like murder and some are more fluid like sex. We may also reject an entire system because of its imposed morals. How many of us here on this site have originally left whichever church they may have formally belonged to not for theological reasons but because they could not accept their rigid morality?
Just as society changes its moral standpoint over time. So may the individual. I confess that I do not have the same values I held when I was 18. Another case in point is Wade (from Wade vs Roe) who is now pro life.
Then there are the judgements where no fixed rules apply. Such as if you find out your friends partner is cheating. Do you tell them? How about if your friend is cheating on their partner? These are purely subjective.
Our legal system is based on the accountability of individuals. If you choose to do the crime then you have to accept to do the time. You cannot enter a plea of "well thats what everybody does" in for example a case of sexual assault in a frat house. saying that "It was the the norm for us guys to get girls so drunk they couldnt stand then take turns". On a lesser case, stealing a hotel towel is still theft.
We all have lines that we will not cross. Mine is "I will not do anything illegal or immoral for less than £5"

It's good to put the price for your moral degradation out there, saves embarrassment later ?

@SimonCyrene It is surprising how much it cuts out. I pay the correct fare on busses and never steal candy bars now.


I think that a more developmental approach to the formation of morals is appropriate. When we are very young, there is a strong evolutionary incentive to cooperate with other humans, and so the basic moral structure that is formed is a cooperative one where you seek to do things together, not anger others, get along, and so on. It is only in late childhood where a measure of self sufficiency is found and more competitive strategies emerge.

Most real criminal minds are the result of these competitive strategies running amok. It takes strong corrective measures to reform these kinds of personalities, but it can be done. This is often a result of teaching them that the cooperative society will take action against them for certain actions.

So is morality subjective? I think nearly all people will realise a planned rape and murder is wrong, and that impulse probably comes from the early childhood cooperative mentality which we all carry. So there is definitely an element of the shared, human-base-reality to it. But it is also possible for people to change their views from say liberal to conservative. It seems the answer is that there is a mixture of things going on, and it cannot be called just ‘subjective’ or ‘objective’.


morality is a flawed concept. social acceptance is the better tool.

Given that we come from love and we may well return to it, do you not think that love forms the basis of our thinking when young and it is something we accidentally lose touch with as we get older? I think that basis could be called a ‘morality’.

@Denker i have never found love and morality to go hand in hand.

@Denker not everyone comes from love. Some have horrendous childhoods. There is absolutly no basis to your proposal.

@SimonCyrene my mother made it a point to tell me every week how much she regretted giving birth to me.

@kauva i hope you have found it in your heart to forgive her . Alternatively, ' fuck the bitch!'. Your choice brother, no judgement here. Be well.

@SimonCyrene unfortunately she went crazy from dementia and died such that I could never make peace with her. that was a hard wound to heal.

@kauva I’m sorry if we ended up broaching a sore topic, but I do think that in the womb and in the earliest phases of life the vast majority of children are loved and cherished.


Of course morality is subjective just as most things are subjective. What is a moral to one person can not be a moral to another. Just like the countless other subjective things somebody decided what was moral. There is no law in nature about law lol.

Your reasoning for why it isn't subjective is very sheepish. People have the same morals as other peers because they are programmed and closed minded. They hardly question things and if they do it tends to be secretly in their own mins.

Just because someone is too blind and closed off to profound thinking doesn't mean morals aren't subjective. Nor is it not subjective just because another society in another country would potentially attack you for having a different moral or moral.

I'm honestly shocked by this post and argument. Though I shouldn't be.


You're wrong and your reasoning is flawed. Moral systems should be coherent and consistent but they rarely are. Do I really need to point out the inconsistencies of various religious moral systems and the hypocrisy of people on all kinds of issues?
Morality is subjective in the sense that we evolved to value certain things more than others. If we evolved differently our morality would look different. To function as a society, for social cohesion moral rules are needed. So only beings with moral rules can form civilizations.
Morality being objective would mean that it exists independent of how we evolved. So it's not objective.
That doesn't mean that there are not things that most,if not all human beings agree on. Our biology dictates that we should avoid pain and most people have a sense of empathy. Those facts influence our morality but again that doesn't make it objective. Subjective doesn't mean that every subject has a different moral system, this is just a strawman.

Dietl Level 7 Jan 28, 2019

@Matias My argument is not flawed, at least you didn't show a flaw but you introduced a new terminology. I don't agree with this definition of 'subjective' because most people mean something different, not just private ideas, feelings ect. as you can see from the responses you got here.
If you want to make this kind of distinction then it would have to be the first things you do. You can't rely on others having read the same philosophers as you. 'Subjective' is a term that has different uses so not being clear on how you use it leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation. I suggest for you to make it clear from the start that you use Hararis language, then I wouldn't have to disagree with your conclusion but only with your non sequiturs (for details google 'non sequitur'😉 )


Your Michelle Obama scenario doesn't make sense, you didn't really make a point with it. If she did switch over, which people do, that'd just show that morals are subjective.

There is very few things about humanity that is objective. Some objective truths about us are that we eat, breathe, shit, and die. Things like our values, emotions, beliefs, and morals are all subjective.

A more real example would be Wade. Who I am told is now pro life

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