Arguments For & Against Moral Subjectivism

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  • 0:01 Defining Morality
  • 0:58 Moral Subjectivism
  • 3:15 Arguments for and Against
  • 4:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Where do we look for moral truth? This is a tough question, and everyone has a different answer. Explore the position of moral subjectivism and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Defining Morality

Hey, do you mind helping me out? I'm looking for something. I know it's around here somewhere. . . no, nope, not there. What are we looking for? Truth. Yeah, I'm searching for moral truths, the universal rights and wrongs that govern all of existence. And I'm not the first.

For millennia, people have searched for the source of all moral truths. Some people believe in examining nature, or the cosmos, or some spiritual plane of existence. But, I'm running out of places to look. Have I looked inside? Inside what? Myself. Hmm. Well now, you just may be on to something. The belief that morality is defined on an individual level is called moral subjectivism, and I think that maybe it's time to take a closer look.

Moral Subjectivism

Morals are the guiding principles of right and wrong, but how do we define these ideas? After all, people around the world have pretty different ideas about what's right and wrong. According to the philosophy of moral subjectivism, this is simply because there are no universal objective moral truths. Moral truths can only be defined by the individual since it is the individual who has to put morality into action.

Now, before we go any further, we need to define some very philosophical ideas. When I talk about moral truths, this means an authentic reality, something immutably and undeniable true. Most philosophers believe that we express moral truths through moral statements, which means that we state morality as a fact.

For example, I can say that this desk is made of wood. That is a fact. In the same manner, I can say that saving a puppy is good. But that statement is only a moral truth if it is correct. And according to moral subjectivism, that moral statement is in fact correct as long as I truly believe it to be, but it is only true to me. Moral subjectivism claims that moral statements can only express subjective truths, real only to each individual, that do not identify objective, universal realities.

So what does this mean for society itself? Well, just because there are no objective moral truths doesn't mean that societies don't have accepted guidelines and moral standards. A community can impose any set of morals it agrees upon, but these morals are not necessarily true. That means that when we do something that our society claims is good or right, really they are just saying that they approve. So, without objective universal truths, you can't really do something immoral or inherently wrong. You can believe that it was wrong or society can express disapproval of your actions, but that's about as far as it goes.

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