(Or ‘The Ice-Cream Analogy For Morality’)
One of the most common arguments within online debate groups (at least, those that pertain to philosophy) is whether morality is objective or subjective. I have been in dozens, if not hundreds, of these discussions myself. What I have found is that, largely, we just tend to talk around each other, or at each other, instead of to each other.
This is true of MANY discussion topics in online debate groups, not just this one. But other than religious topics, this one has always seemed to me to be one of the worst.
I have, for most of my time as an Internet Debater (something I have almost entirely left behind, nowadays) been thoroughly in the camp of morality being subjective. I’ve even argued that position on one of our old podcast episodes, against the wonderful (and much smarter) Trolley Dave (Listen Here)
Whilst I could understand the positions of those that argued for objective morality, I never found it convincing enough to change my position.
However, I now realize that the question itself is difficult to define clearly.
Hence the need (my need, not necessarily yours) for an analogy.
Is Ice-Cream Objective?
Well, yes. We know what Ice-Cream is. We can (usually) look at something, and tell without question whether it is Ice-Cream or not. There is a set of ingredients and conditions (or rules) that must be met for something to be Ice-Cream. But we can’t necessarily tell what type of Ice-Cream it is. That pinkish-red Ice-Cream might be strawberry, or raspberry, of watermelon, or even just plain old vanilla with food colouring in it. But we can know that it is Ice-Cream.
However, that only covers the absolute basics of “Is this thing included in the topic of Ice-Cream”. It tells us nothing of its quality or worth. We know, objectively, that it is Ice-Cream. But we don’t know whether it is Good Ice-Cream or Bad Ice-Cream.
For that, we need further examination.
Is This Ice-Cream Good?
Now, here we could start arguing for subjectivity, but I don’t think that we’re necessarily there, yet.
We can still look at objective measures to determine whether this ice cream is good or bad. Does it use the right ingredients? Has it been stored properly (I’m sure we’ve all had Bad Ice-Cream that was too frozen) Does it have a flavouring that people could like? Whilst we may, individually, not like certain flavours, I’m sure it wouldn’t be too controversial to say ‘Dog Shit and Cyanide Ice-Cream’ would be objectively bad Ice-Cream. It would not meet the requirements of what Good Ice-Cream needs to be, as I think, again hopefully not too controversially, we can say ‘Good Ice-Cream doesn’t kill you’.
Do You Like This Ice-Cream?
Here is where we completely enter the realm of subjectivity. I hate coffee Ice-Cream. But it is objectively still a Good Ice-Cream. It doesn’t matter what I think about it, it meets all the necessary objective qualities to be a Good Ice-Cream, and doesn’t do anything which could be considered an objective rule to classify as Bad Ice-Cream.
Similarly, I really love bubblegum Ice-Cream, but my wife abhors it on an almost visceral level. But again, that is her subjective taste.
From Ice-Cream To Ethics.
And this brings us back to the issue of discussing objective versus subjective morality. We know whether something falls under the category of morality. If an action addresses how we should or should not behave, then it objectively belongs to the realm of morality.
But is it Good Morality? Here, again, I think we are still dealing with Objectivity.
I don’t think it would be controversial to say that Good Morality is about how we should behave for our actions to be positive and beneficial. Now, there are several different objective models of morality that try to achieve this. Whether that’s Consequentialism, Virtue Ethics, Deontology, etc. They are all using different flavours to try to reach that same objective goal, and the application of these systems is, also, still objective. Also, it would hopefully not be controversial to say that murdering someone for fun is immoral—that it represents ‘Bad Morality,’ as opposed to being morally Good. It’s still in the topic of morality, but murdering for fun is just like ‘Dog Shit and Cyanide Ice-Cream’.
We are left as individuals, each having to choose from systems that sometimes have contradictory rules. For example, is it moral to lie? According to Kantianism, no. But other systems might say yes, in certain situations. Therefore, whether certain actions can be categorized as ‘Good Morality’ may, in the end, be subjective.
So, is morality objective? Yes.
Is it subjective? Yes.
Are we ever going to all agree on the matter? Probably not.
But, we *can* all agree… nobody wants ‘Dog Shit And Cyanide Ice-Cream’.
Autistic, queer, D&D devotee, pun peddler, meme dabbler, home-brew hero.
Downton Abbey Diogenes!