What Is Objective Morality?

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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 objective morality has been around for centuries. It is the opposite of subjective morality, which is the view that morals can very from person to person. The idea of objectivity is one that has been discussed since ancient times, from Mohism in ancient China (479-221 BCE) to Plato and Aristotle in ancient Greece (427-322 BCE).

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, research in neuroscience and animal ecology suggest that some animals have a primitive sense of morality, such as chimpanzees punishing other chimps for violating rules of the social order and animals demonstrating empathetic behaviors towards others such as rhesus monkeys refusing to dispense electric shocks to fellow monkeys, even if they would get food as a reward in doing so.

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. Science has suggested key components of morality including prosocial concern, conformity, and the presence of biologically anchored norms have evolved along different evolutionary trajectories amongst primates, possibly influencing human morality both in theory and in practice.

Morality vs. Ethics

Morality and ethics can be related and influence each other, but the two are different. In its simplest form, morals are what you believe, and ethics are what you do.

Morals define our character on a personal level and are our guiding principals and values to what what we believe is right and wrong, stemming from an internal set of beliefs and influenced by upbringing, religious beliefs, and lived experiences.

Ethics dictate the inner working of a social system and are based on moral codes adopted by members of a society. Ethics outline standards of right and wrong in social, professional, or legal contexts.

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.


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 teachings of religious texts including the Bible, Torah, and Quran, all of which have many passages about right and wrong. For instance, people who practice Christianity may fear taking certain actions or having certain identities because the Bible labels certain 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.