Subjectivism: The Death of Morality


A while back I shared a NYT article where the author worried that we aren’t teaching our children morality anymore on my FB. I received a lot of responses that morality is merely a, “I believe what I believe, you believe what I believe,” foundation. I’ve been meaning since then to flesh out my reasoning for why it matters to have morality and that it’s abhorrent (to lay all my cards on the table with that descriptor) to subscribe to a subjectivist view of morality (or its related concepts, like cultural and historical relativism).

If I come along and say that torturing children is right, as a believer in moral subjectivism, you can’t tell me I’m wrong. Holding to the belief, you must say torturing children is right for me, but perhaps it’s wrong for you.

Already, when taking moral subjectivism to its ends, we (should) see how atrocious it is. That is to say, it means the end of morality. It also holds to a view of human beings as infallible in their morality. I base this on a great formulation I saw via some nifty Googling prowess.

1. If moral subjectivism is true, then everyone is infallible about moral beliefs.
2. Not everyone is infallible about moral beliefs.
2. Moral subjectivism is not true.

The first proposition holds because under moral subjectivism, it has to be taken that what I say goes, as it’s the “I” doing it.

But we know the second proposition is correct (and therefore the third) because humans beings and what they believe is indeed fallible.

How can it be that torturing children is both right and wrong?

We can extrapolate this to the culture. American culture thinks mutilating a child’s vagina is wrong (FGM) and other cultures practice it as normal, so it’s right for them. Again, do we want to live in society that can’t say FGM is wrong?

Or go historically. Do we want to live in a society that says slavery was right for 1850’s Southerners, but wrong for 2015 Southerners?

Another good way to think about it that I saw from a libertarian site actually: Either God exists or God does not exist, does the reality of a disagreement (among atheists and theists) matter to the objective truth of God’s existence?

Or take it back to FGM, does the existence of disagreement matter to whether it’s objectively right or wrong? It is either right or wrong. How can it be the case that it is both right and wrong?

I’m really curious to hear those with a subjectivist viewpoint flesh it out. I assume most people are probably subjectivist on the surface. “Well of course morality is just like opinions, man, how do we say what is right or wrong?” Until you start take it to its logical ends.


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