Objective Morality

Is there such a thing as an entirely objective code of ethics? What really tells you that theft (or murder or copyright infringement) is a Bad Thing to do?

Religious people can usually point to some text or writing and say, “I believe that X is wrong, because my religion says so.” There’s also usually some penalty for Bad behavior, whether that be bad karma, or eternal hellfire, or reincarnation into the body of a cockroach. However it works, most religions provide guidelines to help their adherents live “virtuously” (whatever that is defined to mean).

But if you’re not religious, or if you just disagree with the “Ethics” chapter in your holy book, how do you know what’s Good and what’s Bad? What is it that tells you that, for instance, it would be wrong to kill someone for his money, but killing in self-defense might sometimes be justified?

(Simply saying, “My conscience tells me,” is not really any answer. Your conscience is part of your mind, so if it tells you not to do X, you must have (consciously or unconsciously) decided that X is a Bad Thing in this situation.)

I would suggest you check out the thread titled “Moral Imperative” (see URL below) – this was pretty much the subject of that entire thread.


David B -

There was also a debate on teaching morals in public schools that would have a not-so-peripheral relationship to the question. Do you think you could find that one and post a link to it here as well?

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective

I would use the quote: “Do unto others that you would have them do unto you”

Not just in a religious sense, if what you’re doing would hurt you if it was done to you, it probably wrong.

I’m not sure whether to be happy that I got to read a great discussion without having to wait for all the posts, or annoyed that I was too late to be the one starting it. =B^)

As for the Golden Rule, it’s bullshit (unless you’re Christian or something).

The bad guys always win.

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Define “bad guys”

The reason gentlemen prefer blondes is that there are not enough redheads to go around.

Couple of points towards this discussion:

C.S. Lewis collected a bunch of moral pronouncements that basically matched each other from most of the world’s great religions in one of his works. (Sorry, I don’t remember the title, and no longer own it.) He cited the term “philosophia perennis” as having been used for this syncretic viewpoint. That’s not precisely objective but at least lifts it from Xtianity vs. other religions to religions vs. non-religion.

Robert A. Heinlein took a fascinating slant on this question in his speech “The Pragmatics of Patriotism” reprinted in his book Expanded Universe. It amounts to this: survival is moral, all other things being equal, because one who does not survive cannot behave morally. However, it is acceptable to give one’s life to preserve one’s family. Moral, in this case, means taking such action as preserves one’s close relatives. In such a case, one survives through one’s kin.

Then he takes it another step, to clan. Then to nation. Then to mankind as a whole. This is not precisely what you were looking for, either, but it’s as close as one can get in the absence of subscribing to revelation (which violates your “objective” phrasing).