This is a follow-up on my article Objective Moral Values and God.
While the mentioned article was aimed at fundamentalist Christians in particular, I would like to address my atheistic perspective, aside from religious moral claims.
First of all, I don’t really have an answer.
My hunch is that the word “Objective” in the context of morality is a misnomer.
Onyango Makagutu, the author of Random thoughts, cleared it up for me, hinting on the expression “Universal” Moral Values.
—Remember that this is a subject I make no definitive claims about.
Even murder, an alleged universal moral value we can all agree on and value because we understand that it’s stealing a life and detrimental to our own well-being—can be the moral choice. (Murder being different than killing in self-defense. Ah, semantics.)
To illustrate, here’s a famous conundrum:
The Trolley Problem:
—There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options:
• (1) Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track.
• (2) Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.
Which is the most ethical choice?
I have no answer at this time.
If I have one, it’s confused and emotional.
I feel the same about the innocent casualties of war.
However, my logic considers #2 of the trolley problem to be the moral choice.
Still, my heart cannot avoid the idea that this would be murder.
Maybe the philosophical question is this:
Is killing one person to save five persons really “murder”, or can it be said that letting five people die because of our absence of assistance qualifies as “murder”?
Could this conundrum be a dichotomy? Or is there a third option I fail to see?
In any case, it seems to me that on the subject of murder, what many consider an objective moral issue, is not so objective after all.
It may be a universal moral issue, but the trolley problem presents the kind of exception to this universally accepted moral standard that demands subjectivity.
So, Universal Moral Values, yes.
The true “Objective Moral Value” may just be just a “standard” after all.
Not just one single value, but the ensemble of values contained in the “Golden Rule”, promoted by all the main religions and philosophies, that would translate to treating others like we want to be treated ourselves, whether as individuals or as groups.
Feel free to discuss this…