Is the concept of morality absolute and objective? Or rather, does it vary from person to person and culture to culture? Is morality fluid and dynamic, or fixed and nonnegotiable? If we look at subjective morality through the lens of recent history, we find it to be not only illogical, but also dangerous.
Subjective Morality vs Objective Morality
So which concept of morality makes more sense? Does the scale or spectrum of morality fluctuate depending on circumstance, situation or personal belief? To begin, let’s define our terms.
When we discuss objective morality, we are talking about an absolute, unchanging criteria or spectrum for moral and immoral activity. This implies that the concept of good and evil is universal and fixed. Objective morality asserts that it transcends race, creed, culture, time, situations, circumstance, etc. In other words, it is a metaphysical agent, independent from the influence of our world.
Subjective morality suggests the opposite of objective morality. It asserts that morality is relative, subject to things like personal beliefs, circumstances, cultures, worldviews, etc. With this school of thought, your morality may be different than mine. Internal and external factors have the ability to mold and blend morality, depending on the individual.
One example of subjective morality is the practice of seppuku or an “honor suicide” by Japanese samurais during battle. If the warriors were defeated or captured in battle, they would kill themselves in order to avoid shame or dishonor. Additionally, the seppuku was a gruesome practice which involved moving the blade left to right within the stomach, essentially disemboweling oneself. However in the eyes of the Japanese at that time, this was a noble and honorable act.
Subjective Morality is Illogical
Let us further examine the concept of subjective morality from a logical and historical standpoint. First, we must logically deconstruct the concept of morality being subjective and relative. Next, we will reference recent history to look for examples of subjective morality in practice. After all, as George Santayana once wisely said:
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
If morality is subjective like many claim, then there truly is no good or evil. We would no longer have a reference or concept of what is good versus what is evil, for one persons evil might be another person’s good.
Additionally, if you are a proponent of subjective morality then you can no longer condemn, or even classify, another’s actions as “good” or “evil”. Who is to say that your subjective concept of morality is right and the other’s is wrong? If there is no absolute and objective moral compass for comparison, then there is no longer a scale or even reference of right and wrong. “Good” and “evil” would no longer contain any meaning as what they are attempting to describe is always changing. These words could no longer be used to describe people, events, etc.
On one side of the spectrum, we could no longer call things like love, kindness, compassion, grace, “good”. If morality is truly subjective (not only negative but also positive morality), then these character traits aren’t necessarily positive for all people. Nor can we call murder, stealing, war, genocide, etc, evil either.
If subjective morality is true, then categorization of it is totally thrown out of the window. Morality is no longer a polarized concept, but rather a nebulous grey fog of uncertainty. Any discernment between these two poles is impossible because they no longer exist.
Subjective Morality in History: The Danger
It is not hard to imagine how the worldview of subjective morality can become dangerous. If people can no longer gauge right and wrong, what’s to stop injustice, bigotry, violence, etc.? We don’t need to look past the 19th century to see mass genocide morally justified by regime’s subjective ideologies. Native Americans, Jews, Russians, and the Chinese have all suffered from a lack of absolute morality in only the last 100 years. If you believe in complete, subjective morality, then you can no longer speak out against those who exercise it.
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