Why must morality be objective?

I had a question from someone trying to make an argument for objective morality from goodness.  He was essentially trying to show that because things that we call good existed before humanity that therefore good is not subjective in human terms.

My response is below:

It sounds as though you are trying to make the case that morality is objective because it existed before humanity.  Perhaps you are trying to get around the claim that “goodness” is just a human way of thinking?

Your argument may be difficult for people to follow.  It may be better to help them understand what it would mean for morality to be subjective.  What I think you’ll find is that most people, when they truly understand the implications, will reject moral relativism/subjectivism.

Let me give a quick illustration to show the difference between objectivity and subjectivity.  Consider an oil painting.  The fact that the painting is made with oil is objective (true of the object, that is the painting itself).  One can have the subjective opinion that the painting is beautiful, but this would be to say something about the subject (the person viewing the painting), not about the painting itself.  Technically speaking, the painting itself can never be “beautiful”.  If we say, “the painting is beautiful,” we are really saying, “I like the painting,” or something like that.  I could never be right to denounce someone for finding thinking the painting is ugly, since that would just be their subjective opinion.

Now consider moral atrocities.  I would try to find something that is important to the person you are speaking with, something that they really care about.  Would it really be wrong to say, for example, that Hitler was wrong to invade Poland?  Was Nazi Germany’s unprovoked attack on Poland morally neutral?  Is it true that the only thing we can rightly say is, “I don’t like it,” can we never say, “it is wrong”?  If morality really is subjective, then there was really nothing wrong with such things.  All we can really say is that we find them distasteful; similar to the distaste we may have for an over-cooked dinner.

At the very least we can ask, “What seems more obvious, that things really are wrong or that morality is just subjective?”  Our firsthand experience of morality gives us good reason for thinking it is objective, and we would need to hear an equally strong argument for moral skepticism in order to dismiss that experience.


Matt Bilyeu

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