Objective Morality


I post frequently on an atheist website. In one discussion I’ve been following, I ran across a post in which the poster states:

"Sin exists only in religion. If you’re talking about morals, well, that’s a whole other ball game. ** And morals are subjective.** You don’t get to tell me what I can and cannot do if I am not hurt another individual. Likewise, I don’t get to tell you what you can and cannot do as long as you aren’t hurting another individual. So no, you have no authority over me. It’s really as simple as that.

We are both bound by the laws of our countries/states/society etc.  If you want to be bound by the laws of religion, that's your perogative.  However, you have no right to try to bind me by the laws of your religion."

The part I want to reply to is in bold above.  I think I know what I want to sa, but am having a hard time expressing it.  My philosophical and logical skills aren't my strong suit.  Any help?


You sound like you would love reading Kierkegaard. At least with religion something such as the sermon on the mount levels everything flawlessly, something Marx completely failed at figuring out how to do, though he vehemently wished to.


The comment that he makes “as long as you aren’t hurting another individual” is what is subjective. The Catholic Church defines and gives us rules to follow so that we do not hurt another individual.


As soon as one adds qualifiers, things cease to be subjective. IOW, right after stating, without evidence, that “morals are subjective” an objective rule that is expected to be universally applicable is added.

Why? If something as intrinsic as morality is subjective, then surely something as extrinsic as the law must either be subjective or else based on nothing more than threat of punishment and force.

The subjectivist starts with a fallacious argument and immediately starts to contradict himself. The position is intellectually indefensible.


Natural Moral Law–With NML (which has its roots from the pagan philosopher Aristotle) one looks to the natural evidence to determine the purpose of a particular action and then the purpose is weighed against whether the action is in accord with the rational purpose, or not in accord. If it is in accord with the purpose or does not contradict the purpose, it is a morally good or morally neutral action; if it contradicts the purpose, it is an immoral action. The basis is in objective analysis of purpose in the natural world.

Don’t let them throw the “naturalistic fallacy” at you–it doesn’t apply. The naturalistic fallacy is that if it’s in nature, it must be correct. EX: bonobo chimps engage in sexual relations with same sex partners. Therefore homosexuality is natural and normal. FALSE.

  1. He gets it all messed up. No, really.

  2. Objective morality still rests on the idea of not hurting people. Premarital sex hurts people. Contraception hurts people. Masturbation hurts people. It’s not right to hurt others just because you think they have to abide by your decision or just because they consent. First he says it’s about hurting no one, but then he forms the definition of “hurting” to fit his needs in justifying things - not he, rather, but the whole lot of those who think the same way, his predecessors and comrades.

  3. In case of your morals, you may be the direct source of your own morals (doesn’t mean the same range of commands or prohibitions will not be covered by another source), but you are not the source of the objective morality in the sense of moral law. You can’t tell him what to do, as in you, yourself, but it doesn’t automatically make his actions right or wrong. Nor is he the judge of his own actions, either.

  4. In his understanding, one commits a moral wrong only when one goes against his own principles or even only when one does something only he himself considers wrong. That’s absurd.

  5. The laws of your religion you have no right to bind him by might me fasting rules and going to church if he’s not a believer himself. That kind of thing. Objective morality doesn’t lose its objective character just because a religion preaches it.

  6. He does seem to confuse morality and laws. Laws do not carry a moral character. Morality is not a supplement to the law. The law does not override morality in making an action right or wrong. It makes an action legal or illegal, but that’s it. In turn, morality carries no backup firepower, so to say (no enforcement of the kind laws get) and it’s not focused on rights and corresponding obligations. Morality is about duty.


If it were possible to establish a position as being ‘objectively moral’, that would be true but that’s not the case. Just saying: “My position is morally objective so your argument - that it’s only objective for me - is intellectually indefensible,” is, well, intellectually indefensible.

Any number of moral positions may be ‘objectively true’ the problem is actually establishing any of them as being so.


Very well said. :slight_smile:


Hm, yes. Poor guy misses the mark very badly, whether theist or nontheist. To his defense, I will say that I’m glad to see a young person actively inquiring into deriving the methods of moral integration (yes, I’m presuming, but I hear more than a little ‘you can’t make me, you’re not my mommy’ whine in the post’s overall tone - typical of many teenagers, and hopefully that will fade in time).

In fact he contradicts himself immediately, even before what mlchance noted above. ‘So long as you don’t hurt another’ immediately puts an absolute rider on the ‘do as you will’ part. And it’s a good general rule, of course, since it’s really the Golden Rule reworded, but it isn’t enough.

This youngster sounds very ready to learn about the social contract right now (I would say that is vitally important for all teenagers), and definitely needs a course in the rules of rhetorical logic. After that, yes, Kant and Kierkegaard would be very useful, among others, since Kant does not require a theistic outlook, and Kierkegaard helps explain how theists and nontheists differ in mode and method.

That’s what I’d recommend, rather than just quoting bible verses or giving a theological lecture here, since nontheists don’t have the same set of a priori assumptions.

Pardon, I didn’t see where the quotes left off, but what I said still stands. I’d recommend all of that both for the person you’re responding to, and to you, Johenz! :wink:


Your friend said “…** And morals are subjective.** You don’t get to tell me what I can and cannot do if I am not hurt another individual.”

As others have recommended, I would focus on the above statement. Ask your friend why he says it’s wrong to hurt another individual? He’s just made an objective moral statement immediately after saying morals are subjective. He may start to realize his argument rests on a shaky foundation.


Ask him if morality is exclusively subjective then it should be acceptable to him that your morality rejects the notion harming another is wrong.

You don’t get to tell me what I can and cannot do if I am not hurt another individual.

Why is that “absolute”?

We are both bound by the laws of our countries/states/society etc. If you want to be bound by the laws of religion, that’s your perogative. However, you have no right to try to bind me by the laws of your religion."

Laws are not based in morality? That is the atheist fantasy.

Also, be wary of the atheists here who promote things like Kant’s philosophy. This is a good starting point.


See? More fallacious reasoning. Unless, of course, you can demonstrate that in no case can a position be objectively moral.

The subjectivist starts with the fallacy, and never goes beyond it. He offers nothing more than his opinion. Indeed, he can offer nothing more than his opinion, since the proposition that all morality is subjective is inherently contradictory.

– Mark L. Chance.


Bewaaaaaare the Continental Rationalists of the Enlightenment! creak

And that excerpt is, well, a steaming pile, and serves only to heighten my disdain for Peter Kreeft. How can this man, a ‘philosopher’ who’s published dozens of works on theology and morals, not be able to tell the difference between the Categorical Imperative and the Golden Rule? And they are markedly different: where the Golden Rule prescribes a morality of enlightened self-interest, the Imperative proposes a morality of duty.

Even better, according to Kreeft, Kant didn’t really believe in his own Categorical Imperative! He just said ‘hold your nose and do this, it’ll work out for the best’! What?! Does Peter Kreeft hail from some alternate universe with a vastly different Immanuel Kant? That’s the only explanation I can think of.

Kreeft seems not to like Kant in general on the basis that Kant (who was, as Kreeft admits, a good and pious man) accepted that he could know God only through faith. How is that even a problem? How does Kreeft have the hubris to implicitly damn Kant over a mere philosophical disagreement?

So who’s next? Hobbes?


This statement is false by it’s own assertion. The writer is saying “There is an objective moral law that all morals are subjective.”

No, morality is objective. Guilt is subjective.


Err? That’s not what what I implied (obviously, I’m afraid).

There may be any number of ‘objectively moral’ positions, all you’ve got to do is to show that any one of them is objectively moral (it really is up to you, honest).

Good declamatory stuff though, always impressive!


Well, one of the basic problems is making faith and reason enemies. But, that is a new thread.


Do good, avoid evil. Is that not self evident?


You could fill libraries just dealing with the word ‘good’ and the word ‘evil’, - that’s before you get to the statement as a whole and the question as a whole and, of course, the statement and the question taken together.

In other words: “If only it were.”


Check out the big brains on the posters!:smiley: My own grief counselor just stares at me dimly when I talk about this kind of stuff. I should hire you all. Please, discuss. Tim


Yer man stumbled over it – “if I am not hurt(ing) another individual.”

So he would agree that murder is objectively wrong, no? How about mugging someone? Stealing? Rape? Lying in a case when the outcome would cost someone his life, money or years in prison? Spreading false rumours that would hurt someone else’s self-esteem, professional reputation, or business?

How about failing to provide care for those close to him, his wife, children, or aged parents?

Would he say it would be wrong to sell addictive drugs – like crack, heroin, or meth? How about selling or giving them to children?

It seems to me yer man is a little shallow and self-centered.

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