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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Can We Define Objective Morality?

This is part of my blogathon for SSA Week. Donate, and suggest topics for me, here!

This one comes in from Mike Mei, formerly of the Secular Alliance at the University of Chicago: he asks how we can define objective morality.

I'm not really sure that we can.

See, my philosophical beginning was with Albert Camus, and to this day I still view one of my first touchstones in my worldview as being the absurdist assertion that there is no intrinsic meaning to the world, but instead we create meaning based on experience. I believe that each and every freethinking person probably views morality in very different ways, but that does not, for me, necessarily mean that one viewpoint is better than another. 

I suppose more than anything I would define myself as a consequentialist. Defined simply, this means that we evaluate how moral an action is based on whether or not it created a good outcome; I'm not a utilitarian, as that relies far too much on Enlightenment notions of ethics for my comfort. But, empirically, we know that actions considered by many to be "good" are not always so; take, for example, a person who gives food to a homeless person out of kindness, without knowing that said homeless person is allergic to an ingredient in the food they were given. And indeed morally "bad" actions can be said to have good outcomes, such as if someone managed to kill a person threatening to kill innocents before they could pull the trigger, as it were. These are basic examples, but I think illustrate the point.

Hence my dilemma. I know, for instance, Dan Fincke over at Camels With Hammers has argued in favor of there being objective morality, but I have yet to properly engage with that material. As such, my answer, for now, is that I do not personally believe it is possible for there to be a set of morals that is objectively right or wrong.

But, I will be happy to hear opposing arguments, and maybe be proven wrong.

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