Moral subjectivists never fail to entertain me when they try to make their philosophy seem reasonable and workable. UD commentator jdk, for example, doesn’t seem to realize how often his unstated assumptions undermine – or even nullify – the very points he is trying to make.
In one exchange, he denies the existence of objective morality, but he does say, nevertheless, that he “judges” murder to be wrong – not objectively wrong – but wrong in the sense that a moral judgment is a subjective act. So I asked him to explain why he “judges” murder to be wrong. He graciously (and courageously) answered the question , and I now follow with my analysis:
JDK: [I judge that murder is wrong] because my mature sense of love, compassion, and empathy for other human beings is such that I desire for them as much right to life as I desire for myself.
I admire the altruistic impulse that informs this comment, but I must begin with a qualifying question: How do you know that your sense of love, compassion, and empathy is “mature” unless there is some objective moral standard to differentiate between a mature sense and an immature sense?
According to the objective standard, mature love (Agape) involves an element of making sacrifices for the other, whereas immature love (Eros) is based simply on feelings and the thrill of being pleased by the other. Subjectivism, however, does not make these kinds of distinctions and cannot, therefore, identify what is mature and what is not.
To truly judge the act of murder, it is not enough to express wishes and desires. One must consider principled reasons why potential victims are entitled to live – what is it about them or their nature that gives them that right? – and why murderers deserve to be punished – what is it about their act that demands satisfaction? Subjective morality cannot even begin to address those issues.
JDK: I also recognize the benefits to society in general for a safe social structure that allows everyone to have a reasonable opportunity to become as well-developed human beings as they can, again motivated by a sense of connection to my fellow human beings through emotions such as love, compassion, and empathy.
Again, you have stepped into the arena of objective morality. In order to know what benefits society, one must first know what is good for society. Among other things, the good of survival is connected to the good of procreating the species, which in turn, is connected to the good of forming communities, all of which are objectively good benefits because they are consistent with man’s social nature. This all makes perfect sense.
Subjective morality, on the other hand, does not recognize natural goods or natural rights, or natural obligations. Thus, it cannot address the subject of what “benefits” society. That is why it is so dangerous. (Moral subjectivism is more than just an exercise in irrational thinking. When humans try to fashion their own morality, an immoral culture of misery and death always follows. If objective morality doesn’t exist, then the moral code [and the civil law derived from it] is whatever those who are in power want it to be, and they want what is good for them, always at the expense of everyone else).
Moving forward, how do you know when humans are “well-developed” unless you acknowledge some objective standard that determines when they reach that threshold? The question that cannot be avoided is: “Well developed compared to what?
Are humans well developed if they possess love, compassion, and empathy but lack persistence, courage, and loyalty? Objective morality answers that question with a firm no: a well-developed human being is one that has cultivated both the soft and the hard virtues. Subjective morality doesn’t even recognize virtues as virtues. Yet you pay a quiet tribute at least to the soft virtues (empathy etc.), which are objective in nature, though you shrug them off as mere “emotions.”
Further, if there are no “shoulds” then why do you imply that society should have a safe social structure? Isn’t it because a safe society is an objectively good situation to be aimed for and an unsafe society is an objectively bad situation to be avoided?
JDK: In part, I desire such a society because I know that I and the ones I most closely love and care about can’t have a reasonable maximum of happiness and satisfaction with our being in an unhealthy society, so I have a interest in everyone having somewhat the same opportunities I do.
Once again, you are appealing to objective standards by assuming that happiness is a good thing for humans and that a healthy society is an objectively good thing in itself. Even in the physical realm, there is a difference between the perception of good health, based on subjective appearances, and the confirmation of good health, measured by objective medical standards.
In spite of yourself, you recognize the self-evident truth that objective morality exists, both at the individual and societal level. So much so, that even in the process of denying it you end up confirming it against your will.