What Is Objective Morality?

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What Is Objective Morality?

Objective Morality

Objective morality is the idea that right and wrong exist factually, without any importance of opinion. It's the concept that some actions and beliefs are imperatively good or inherently bad, and that the goodness or badness of those things holds true no matter who you are or what else you believe in.

Objectivity refers to the notion that something is factual, aka objective, and without bias. and morality means a sense of something being right or wrong. objective morality is also known as moral objectivism.

The History of Objectivity

The idea of objectivity has been around since the Middle Ages. It is meant to be the opposite of subjective morality. The idea of objectivity is one that philosophers have used in earlier forms since long before, with earlier versions going all the way back to the times of Aristotle.

In the 19th century, philosophers migrated to the idea that because science can prove concepts factually, philosophy should become more factually oriented. While some philosophers criticized this shift, it gained enough steam that it became a dominant form of thinking.

The History of Morality

The idea of morality transcends humans. For example, animals must adhere to certain morals, such as not murdering one another, to live in packs successfully.

Did Humans Inherit Morality?

As people, we generally consider our sense of morality as we know it to be the result of our ability to write and communicate in complex ways. Still, science has shown us that we actually inherited morality, both in theory and in practice, from our ape ancestors.

Morality vs. Ethics

Morality is closely related to ethics, but the two are different. The simplest way to view the differences between them is that your ethics are the values you hold, and your morals determine those values.

The Arguments For and Against Objective Morality

Because objective morality can't be determined, hands down, as definitely existing or not, some people believe in it, and others do not. There are arguments to be made both ways.

Reminder

Before delving into them, it's important to note that these are philosophical concepts, not facts. Scholars and philosophers have debated these questions for millennia, and there is no quantifiable "easy" answer.

The Arguments For Objective Morality

Here are some arguments that support objective morality:

  • Religion Determines Morality: The most common argument for objective morality relies on good and bad as viewed through the lens of God. This argument relies on the Bible, which has many pages about right and wrong and how God views actions that are one or the other. For instance, people who subscribe to religion may fear taking certain actions or having certain identities because the Bible describes those things as "sins."
  • Society Determines Morality: Even to atheists or people who don't subscribe to religion, the idea of objective morality can still be argued for. The simple fact that we hold certain behaviors as acceptable in society and others as unacceptable is an argument for objective morality's existence. When something occurs, and our gut reaction is "that's not fair," that's an example of objective morality—the idea that occurrences are fair or not, regardless of the circumstances surrounding them.
  • Self-Improvement Determines Morality: Another argument for the existence of objective morality is how people often want to better themselves. This idea involves similar acts and ideas no matter who is trying to do that. Being kinder to others and acting charitably are examples. When we think of becoming better people, we generally all think of similar actions. This can be taken to mean that as people, we see some ways of being as good and others as bad or in need of change or bettering.

The Arguments Against Objective Morality

Here are some arguments that are against objective morality:

  • Moral relativism: The most common argument against the existence of objective morality is the concept of moral relativism. Moral relativism argues that morality is relative, changing between cultures and historical periods. It also postulates that viewpoints change depending on perspective. This is a strong argument, in that our cultures over time have had huge fluctuations in what can be considered morally acceptable or not.
  • Scientific Analysis: One scientific analysis notes that there is "no set criteria by which two opposing moral beliefs can be directly compared to see which one is correct." Instead, the analysis says that we can only decide what is right and wrong for us based on the past, such as how we now, as a whole, think slavery, polygamy, and animal cruelty are wrong.

How Do We Really Know What's Right or Wrong?

If morality were objective and something such as polygamy is now considered wrong or bad by the average person, then how could it be the norm for many years? And why does it still exist in some cultures, including ones in the United States? It isn't legal, but some religious groups still practice it. How can something be objectively "wrong" if some people are convinced it's "right?"

Does Objective Morality Truly Exist?

There is no "right" answer about whether or not objective morality exists. In fact, the arguments for and against its existence are both strong and logical.

There are also truths on each side: those who believe in it say we agree that certain actions are wrong, and those who don't say that those decisions about right and wrong change depending on time and circumstance.

A Word From Verywell

Every day, we are faced with decisions to make about how we behave in the world. Whether objective morality exists or not, we all have an inner sense of right and wrong and of good and bad. Following that inner sense is your best bet to living well and being a kind person even though morality may or may not be objective. You are allowed to decide for yourself based on your own moral compass, what the correct choices are for your own life.

Philosophy is a complicated subject, and it has many facets. If this article made you want to learn more about philosophical ideas, consider learning about additional concepts. One great example is epicureanism, which has a lifestyle model to improve your happiness.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Ariane Resnick, CNC
Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity.