Taylor,

Thank you for your response. I’ll begin by stating that the article was not written to argue either for or against the existence of anything like an "objective morality". Indeed, the title - "Is There an Objective Morality? Does it Matter?" was chosen as a hint that the argument to follow would answer the second question in particular in the negative, rendering the question of objective morality’s existence irrelevant. Morality simply doesn’t need to be "objective" to be either useful or worth pursuing. Regardless, I have yet to hear what something like an objective moral code that wasn’t coupled with subjective experiences like flourishing and suffering would even look or be like. Therefore, in so far as you are arguing that my position does not readily lend itself to the existence of an "objective morality", at least not in anything like an absolute sense, I am in total agreement.

That said, even assuming we could objectively observe morality it wouldn’t be transcendent. This brings me to where I think you and I might differ most strongly: the question of whether there could be anything like a purely objective version of the "good" in the first place, let alone one that is necessary. First of all, a morality that derives from a source that transcends the human experience cannot qualify as "objective". Transcendence by definition goes beyond either/or choices between categories such as subjective and objective, to say nothing of good vs. bad. Regardless, a morality that derives its authority solely from a transcendent source is beyond our ability to observe and therefore can hardly be objectified and is at least as subject to (mis)interpretation as anything more down to earth we might settle for.

Poetry, art, and spirituality are experiences that deal in transcendence (or the ineffable) and I in no way want to diminish them. However, they also don't claim to be quantifiable or "objective". That said, we can to at least some degree explain why we have the capacity for aesthetic and spiritual experiences without in the least diminishing the meaning these experiences have for people. We can place both a personal subjective and biological/physical/mental health value on these without in any way rendering them less powerful.

When it comes to questions like moral issues surrounding wellbeing, flourishing, or suffering these experiences arguably lie somewhere between poetry and hard science. Denying the human body food has very quantifiable negative effects. Denying a human being love tends to as well, but some people endure it better than others. Nonetheless, it doesn't follow that because denial of necessities like food and water has more readily quantifiable "objective" effects than denying love that denying love and kindness is in some sort of moral grey area where we just can't be sure. We don't need to resort to a transcendent source to find the answer to whether or not it's good to love our children to the best of our ability or wrong to treat our neighbors cruelly.

Whether we think morality’s ultimate source is more earthly or rather less immediately accessible, we can readily reach some reasonable if not provable conclusions about why this or that is moral and other things less so. Since virtually all the major spiritual traditions, branches of philosophy, and the social sciences more or less agree on some version of "The Golden Rule" that seems as good a place as any to start doing some good research/thinking on the topic. This rule doesn’t necessarily render humans of any "inherent value" or more important than anything else - not from a cosmic perspective at any rate. However, it goes without saying that to humans the human condition is more salient than it is to squirrels or other creatures, and vice versa. The simple reality is we cannot “step outside” the forces responsible for our existence or day-to-day interactions with the world. If that is what you think is necessary for good science or philosophy then you will be perpetually disappointed.

To find an explanation for this 'Golden Rule consensus' we need look no further than evolution and its associated consequences for human psychology, etc. Here, at least, we can build explanations and test them through various means. To say morality is transcendent may or may not be ultimately true in some sense or another but it just begs the question, just as saying 'morality because the big bang' would - a statement that would both be true and completely lacking in any explanatory power. Regardless, the transcendent explanation for morality (or the big bang one) still must manifest itself through very physical conscious beings that behave in reasonably understandable and consistent ways. One can accept the more proximate explanations as well as the more ultimate transcendent ones or one can just settle for the more proximate ones. However, I have yet to hear a good case for why transcendence negates the more proximate manifestations of and explanations for our moral albeit flawed nature which are actually observable. The proximate causes for both flourishing and suffering are at least largely sufficient but one can also ponder the whys and wherefores beyond them if they so choose.

Finally, we can more or less definitively say that people who live in X set of conditions tend to be more happy and fulfilled than people that live in Y set of conditions. Given that is the case and we generally agree that happiness, fulfillment and wellbeing are preferable to their opposites, why should we dismiss either the objective or subjective aspects of how to promote happiness and avoid misery to the greatest extent possible? Why must we verify some "objective source" for morality before we can even begin to do so? It’s precisely here where both science and philosophy come in. That said, you follow any inquiry back far enough eventually you’ll hit a wall. If you want to apply transcendence, God or metaphysics at that point, I’m fine with it provided we understand these are just metaphors or means of dealing with our own ignorance.

Written by

US citizen residing in British Columbia, Canada. Degrees include anthropology and environmental studies. Activism, politics, science, nature.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store