The subject of objective morality is a troubled one. Bring it up, even clearly and with care, and one is nevertheless met with some flavor of righteous indignation or a general misanthropy leaving us morally inferior to the apes.
For my part, I am as earnest as I am ambitious, and even troubled waters will not keep me from putting out to sea once more.*
First, what do we mean by objective morality?
Webster works well enough, and I paraphrase thus: Morality is a doctrine or system of beliefs about what is right and what is wrong.
There is nothing foreign about this. We pass moral judgments all the time, even without realizing it. When someone speeds recklessly down the highway, flying past your own vehicle, you judge that this person is going much faster than is safe. You further judge that they are deficient in their duties to the other drivers on the road, lacking in a value which can only be defined in terms of right and wrong.
Now, objective morality connotes a system of beliefs which is true independent of what anyone may think about it.
An example of an objective truth (which is not a moral truth) is that 9 x 9 = 81. Even if the United Nations decided tomorrow that all of the world should answer that 9 x 9 = Porridge, it would remain true that 9 x 9 = 81, no matter what we say about it.
An example of an objective moral truth is that “Rape is wrong.” If all the world should decide tomorrow that rape is morally neutral, or even morally praiseworthy, it would nevertheless remain true (according to the concept of objective morality) that rape is actually still wrong, no matter what we think about it.
Now – if you ask me, the first question we should ask in any discussion of right and wrong is whether there is an objective morality.
If there is not, then the discussion is drained of meaning. We are now talking about personal preferences; even baser – we are talking about mere appetites. There can be no moral objections, because there is no real meaning behind morality. (More soon)
If there is, then we have some discerning to do. How is it that we discover what is morally right and morally wrong? According to what standard are these things judged? This distinction is between moral epistemology and moral ontology, and we’ll discuss that next time.
*As before, in this space.