Is secular morality totally subjective?

The always fabulous ZOMGitsCriss staged a dialogue between two hypothetical atheists–both played by her–about whether secular moral reasoning is by nature completely subjective, or whether there exist objective standards of right and wrong that we all should abide by. (The video’s about a year old, but I just found it recently.) While the moral relativist opens with a statement that sounds absurd on face, I do think the conversation was put together well and portrays each side fairly.

Which side are you on? Do you think the concepts of right and wrong are just matters of personal preference? Or do you think that there are moral standards we can justly say everyone ought to obey, even in the absence of divine commands?

(P.S. I haven’t had much time for blogging recently, hence the two video posts in a row. I’ll be back to my usual verbose self tomorrow.)

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  1. I’ve never heard of her before. What a great idea for a video. Why hasn’t anyone else commented on this?

    I think there are moral standards everyone ought to obey, but I think they need to be based on something more like predictable consequences, which she mentions near the end of the video. Kind of strange though, because if I had to pick a label I would likely get lumped in with the moral relativist/subjectivist.

    I thought these two quotes from the video were interesting :

    “Our personal levels of interpretation of the levels of suffering make it subjective, but suffering itself is an objectively bad experience that all subjects try to avoid.”

    “The ability to feel pain is a fact. But this doesn’t prove there is a real value in me not harming you.”

  2. Your guess is as good as mine, Andrew — I thought it was interesting. 😉 Comments are open for the foreseeable future, though, so maybe you’ll spark some conversation.

    My favorite thing about this video is that it happens at the level I wish all casual philosophical debates could reach. Both sides sound pretty reasonable (if you can get past the beginning). The relativist isn’t saying, “Well, since there are no gods, we might as well go eat some babies and set fire to this pile of kittens!” Each side actually engages with the other’s ideas. Ah, I dream of a day when this might be possible in situations where it isn’t the same person playing both sides….

    I’m curious why you think you’d pick the relativist label. A statement like, “I think there are moral standards everyone ought to obey” seems to suggest otherwise. 🙂

  3. “Ah, I dream of a day…”

    🙂 with you on that

    I’d pick the relativist label because I have some trouble with the idea of objective truths, (especially in the hands of subjective “experiencers”).
    Maybe I should edit my comment to “I think society better formulate some moral standards based on predictable consequences, and they better be effective and constantly reviewed, or else a lot of stuff could go to sh**.

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