A redated post.
Question: What is the difference between a theory of moral values according to which morals are objective and a theory of values according to which morals are subjective?
Student Answer: Belief in objective moral values means that something can be right or wrong independent of what individuals or societies feel about it. If morals are objective, then regardless of how people feel about, say, human sacrifice, it is still really wrong. If morals are subjective, then the “last word” lies with a social group or the individual himself.
Question: Sounds good. Let me ask you this. If something is subjective, could everyone be wrong about it? What if something is objective?
Student answer: If it’s objective, then conceivably everyone has it wrong. If it’s subjective, that makes no sense. If it’s just a matter of how people feel about something, and everyone feels the same way, then how could everyone be wrong?
Question: So, could you give me an example of something that everyone would agree is objective and something everyone would agree is subjective.
Answer: The claim that the earth is round is objective. We can prove that it’s round, so even if everyone thought it was flat it would still be round. The claim that McDonald’s Quarter Pounder is better than BK’s Whopper would be an example of a subjective claim. It’s just a matter of taste buds and personal preference. You can’t even get an argument going.
Question: What about something like intelligent life on other planets, or whether or not God exists. We may not be able to prove those one way or the other. Does that make them subjective?
Answer: In those cases we could have overwhelming evidence one way or the other. For example, we could visit those other planets, even though we can’t now. And if everything started happening like is supposed to happen in the Book of Revelation, I suppose it would be just insane to be an atheist.
Question: So what about abortion let's say. Is it objectively right or objectively wrong.
Answer: That has to be subjective, because it might be right or wrong depending on the circumstance.
Question: Wait a minute. Does that mean that whether abortion is right or wrong is subjective, or that we need to know more about the case before we decide whether it's right or wrong.
Answer: But we're never going to agree on whether abortion is right or not.
Question: Of course, lack of agreement doesn't prove that something is subjective. Remember, you said that if something was objective everyone could have it wrong. Is the abortion issue subjective, or complicated?
Answer: Well, it looks complicated to me. But does that mean it isn't subjective.
Question: Well, I'm not arguing that it's objective either at this point. I'm just trying to get you to realize that something could be objective even if it's hard to decide. Let's change the example. Take the practice of forcing young girls to enter polygamous relationships with older men in Colorado City. They think it's OK, we don't. Is somebody wrong?
Answer: In that case I would be inclined to think that the practice is just wrong, no matter who thinks it right.
Question: So that means you think at least some moral judgments are objectively true or false.
Answer: Well, I suppose so.