Can ethics be objective?

Discussions relating to good and evil, right and wrong, values, virtues, duty, and natural rights

Can ethics be objective?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Fri Mar 30, 2012 7:56 pm

Is there any possibility that ethics can be objective? Or does morality ultimately come down to personal points of view that are always subjective?
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Re: Can ethics be objective?

Postby the old curmudgeon on Thu Apr 12, 2012 6:32 pm

Here are a couple of thoughts, that could be infused into several of the subjects discussed. But this is a good place to start.
First lets take the "Traditional religion is flawed, but so is secularism"
If people today, who are so entrenched within both camps, could take a step back. Critically think and do some cognitive reflective reasoning for a little bit, they would see how we become so entranced with self importance and our so called mental acuity, when it comes to philosophical ramblings about life in general. There is a need to realize we are still searching for answers.
For those of us who have been on this earth for three quarters of a century or more believing in Nature and all its glory. We are a dying breed of non-religious, but accepting the fact that organized religion plays a very important part in holding societal norms together, as long as it is Ethical, Moral and Humanely utilized by the laity or congregations more than the clergy, to care for all around them. The mental sanity of many who need a "higher power" to believe lays in the balance, and should not be ridiculed. Those of my ilk and experience in life's journey, are far more tolerant of others. Love and compassion is being very selfishly, and selectively doled out in today's world.
These are just a few thoughts being rambled on about by an "old man". I hope some of what I said makes sense. Objectivity on ethics and morality is buried in there someplace HA!.......
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Re: Can ethics be objective?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Sat Apr 14, 2012 1:16 pm

Thanks Curmudgeon for the post. I agree that these people who have extreme positions either in favor of traditional religion or strict secularism would benefit by thinking critically and doing reflective reasoning. Constructive dialog with people who we disagree with is also very important. Nobody should think that they have all of the answers.

Well I've been on the Earth only a third of a century so far and humbly acknowledge that I have much to learn, and I'm sure I still will if I should live to a full century of age.
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Re: Can ethics be objective?

Postby robert hand ferry on Fri Jun 15, 2012 1:33 am

i do not feel that humans can be objective in their thinking about anything.

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Re: Can ethics be objective?

Postby Michael on Sun Jul 15, 2012 9:36 am

Considering the complexity of human life, particularly because it has unregulated elements compared to the natural system that so tightly controls the animal world, I don't think we can have a truly objective moral code. The problem is that humans act outside of instinctive responses. We are limited by the response of our own bodies(which are resilient), our societies(which vary) and the restrictions of the physical environment (which we can manipulate).

If we were designed to operate within a rigid system, morality would be an easy black and white choice--what is against the system is immoral, but our system is not a fixed system like the natural world.

The idea of morality needs to be based on the well-being of the individual and mankind in general, since what affects others negatively ultimately affects us negatively and God did not create us to act against others or ourselves. However, the complexity of this system makes some choices which are very good for mankind as a whole, very bad for individuals or the environment, and this ends up having negative effects on mankind in the long run. Or a choice may be good for an individual and bad for everyone else(and indirectly bad for the individual).

The logical decision in my view is an attempt at an objective analysis of each decision. What is best for the individual, society and the environment and what does the least permanent damage? This may not be an easy, clear system of morality, yet it encompasses the complex relationships that are the result of having God given free will.
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Re: Can ethics be objective?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Sun Jul 15, 2012 11:14 pm

Thanks for the post Michael. I think I largely agree with you, but let me address some of the points you made so you can get an idea of where I stand on this question.

Michael wrote:Considering the complexity of human life, particularly because it has unregulated elements compared to the natural system that so tightly controls the animal world, I don't think we can have a truly objective moral code.

First, I want to clarify the terminology used here. The word "objective" has multiple possible meanings that are related but different in important ways. Some people take this word to mean when someone has a conception of reality that accurately corresponds to the way things really are in reality. This is probably what people mean when they speak of "objective reality". I don't like using this word in this way because we have other ways of talking about the reality that actually exists, the way things are regardless of anyone's point of view, mind-independent facts about the world.

The other meaning of "objective" is a treatment of things in a way that is from a neutral point of view. Basically, if one has an objective understanding of something, they are seeing it the same ways as anyone else would. I do believe that there is some universality to human morality, but there are always aspects of morality that are dependent on the individual's personality and experiences in life, hence morality can never truly be objective.

Michael wrote:The idea of morality needs to be based on the well-being of the individual and mankind in general, since what affects others negatively ultimately affects us negatively and God did not create us to act against others or ourselves. However, the complexity of this system makes some choices which are very good for mankind as a whole, very bad for individuals or the environment, and this ends up having negative effects on mankind in the long run. Or a choice may be good for an individual and bad for everyone else(and indirectly bad for the individual).

I agree with the broad fundamental principle that the well being of the individual is foundational to morality. It is often quite difficult to assess this among other people which is why high-level morality, the kind we try to deal with every day, cannot be objective. There are too many unknowns, communication is often quite limited, so we can only try to use our best judgment as to what is right. Also as you mention there are trade-offs. It is not possible to always to the right thing for everyone.

I do believe that the well being principle is important and despite the fact that this cannot be objective, it can be intersubjective, which is a mutual understanding of people's subjective experience. The fundamental assumption that this principle is based on is that other people have similar experiences of positive and negative. They can be in a state of well being, and they can be in states that from their own point of view are less desirable. Since this is based on personal experience rather than an understanding of certain things external to ourselves, it is subjective. But since we have, I think, a good reason to conclude that all conscious humans have similar experiences in this regard, we can call this understanding intersubjective.

Michael wrote:The logical decision in my view is an attempt at an objective analysis of each decision. What is best for the individual, society and the environment and what does the least permanent damage? This may not be an easy, clear system of morality, yet it encompasses the complex relationships that are the result of having God given free will.

Makes sense. I will say that the first thing we need to do to assess what is right or wrong is to understand what is well being. I have concluded that I not only have a natural preference for happiness as opposed to suffering, but also I have a natural preference for life and liberty as well. Also, my preference for sustained life far outweighs my other preferences. So applying this to moral decisions in life, I think our first consideration should be how to preserve everyone's life and then we can try to figure out how to maximize happiness and liberty across the population that is affected by our actions.
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