Can Ethics be Subjective?

  • Thread starter JodyBuchanan
  • Start date


Aug 3, 2020
  • #1
Let me ask you something. Is there anything in this world that is absolutely wrong? Anything you think no one should partake in, no matter what? I've been reading a lot about ethics and morality in a few different books and I've begun to wonder if all of morality is subjective or if it can be objective as well. From what I've gathered, it can be a little of both. The thing is, there's nuance in everything and ideas need to be explored thoroughly before a decision is made. I'll give you a few examples to elaborate.

Did you know that for approximately 2,000 years in India, there was a practice referred to as suttee (sati) that took place? Basically, when a man in parts of India died, his wife was expected to jump on top of his funeral pyre with him to burn to death. The reasoning for this was to allow for all of the man's wealth and property to pass to his blood relatives. The practice of suttee was done voluntarily, but it was also expected of women to perform it by the members of the community. If the woman didn't perform this duty, she'd likely be lynched, drowned, cast out, or killed in some other way.

The practice of suttee continued on in parts of India until 1829, when it was banned by the English and then the Dutch, and French later on. It was described by these Europeans as "revolting to the feelings of human nature." This was actually stated by Lord William Bentinck in 1829, who outlawed these actions and made them illegal and open to prosecution. While there are sporadic instances of suttee today, these are primarily done by very devoted woman who feel that it's their duty to cling to their heritage. Either that, of there's some unspoken pressure placed on them that the rest of the community is unaware of.

I've long felt that China's dog meat festival is one of the most horrible and barbaric events that can possibly take place. If it were up to me, I'd outlaw the practice and impose stiff punishment on anyone who engaged in it. I wonder how the Chinese feel about we Americans eating beef. Or pork. I wonder how those from India feel about so many other countries eating beef as well. If you aren't aware, there are parts of India whose inhabitants are vegetarian. They consider the cow to be a sacred symbol of life that should be protected and revered. There are other areas where people live, however, who do eat meat. India is actually one of the largest beef exporters on earth, which makes the entire situation even more confusing.

So back to my question. Are there earthly actions that take place that are absolutely wrong? In my opinion, I think China's dog meat festival is one of them. I've stated that. But how can that be wrong if I don't think eating beef is wrong? Is killing an innocent dog worse than killing an innocent cow? Or am I just used to hearing about and have become accustomed to cow deaths? Or is it because I think we need to kill cows in order to survive? If something is a need, does that make it okay? What if the population of the United States grew so large that not one more person could fit in the country? Would it be okay for the U.S. to commandeer another less populated country for its citizens to live? These are all good questions and are those that can be either subjective or objective, depending on who you talk to.

Subjective: based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.

Objective: not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

Is something okay just because it's "always been done that way"? How about this - what if an outside nation invaded another nation that was engaging in genocide? Would the outside nation be morally praiseworthy for going in and imposing their own beliefs? Is genocide ever okay? Is there a clear answer when we ask if an action is acceptable? Are any of these morally acceptable?

- Suttee
- Dog meat festival
- Eating beef
- Going to war
- Genocide

What if a nation or a group of people have thought long and hard about something and has decided that it is morally acceptable? What if the rest of the world finds the activity repulsive and decides that it needs to stop? Who's in charge here? Can one's morality trump someone else's?

If you're curious, what I shared above is covered by the umbrella of what's referred to as metaethics. This area deals with the nature of morality itself. It strives to find answers to questions like: What is morality? Can morality ever be objective, meaning, can we separate from our own feelings and beliefs to deem something either inherently or absolutely right or wrong? If we do find what's referred to as a moral fact, can that fact ever supersede what a particular group deems moral, if that group's interpretation is different from our own?

Metaethics tries to establish whether or not there is a proper and moral way to live. Can that circumstance even exist? It tries to determine if there is a set of universal truths to which we, as humans, should abide. It also attempts to determine whether or not ethics is merely subjective, in that it be applied to localized groups that may live or have lived during a certain time period in a certain location.

Is there an ultimate and absolute truth or is truth merely subjective among groups who have different traditions, opinions, or views on things?

I find this topic fascinating. If you have something to add or an opinion on what I wrote, please share down below. I'd love to hear what you have to say.
Can Ethics be Subjective? was posted on 08-19-2020 by JodyBuchanan in the Philosophy Forum forum.
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