The Instigator
Pro (for)
0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
3 Points

All morality is subjective

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/29/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,112 times Debate No: 41392
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (4)
Votes (1)




-I will be arguing in favor of the view that all moral principles are subjective in accordance to the culture and era in which they are applied.

Round 1: Acceptance
Round 2: Arguments
Round 3: Rebuttals
Round 4: Conclusion and final rebuttals

Morality can be defined in the following ways:

1. Descriptively to refer to some codes of conduct put forward by a society or,

a. some other group, such as a religion, or
b. accepted by an individual for her own behavior or

2. Normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.

Subjectivity can be defined as:

a. Proceeding from or taking place in a person's mind rather than the external world

b. Particular to a given person; personal

-I look forward to an interesting debate with whomever decides to accept my contention.



Objective - valid and binding regardless of, and independent from human opinion or culture, etc. Whatever exists objectively can, in some logically possible state of affairs, be gradually detected and identified rather than subjectively created by us. For example the physical world is fallibly detected and identified, it is not created by us in our minds, etc.

Foundational - a basic belief which can't be inferred or further justified from other beliefs, but that one is rational to believe given the absence of any defeater for such a belief, eg, the belief in the external world. [1]

Moral values - moral worth in terms of good v bad: justice is good, injustice is bad, equality is good, inequality is bad, etc

Moral duties - moral obligation in terms of right v wrong: saving a child's life is is the right thing to do, murdering that child for fun is the wrong thing to do.

Burden of Proofs

Nota bene Pro's claim, "all moral principles are subjective" or the resolution, that "all morality is subjective." The logical equivalence of such claims is, "there are no moral principles which aren't subjective" or in other words, "there is not at least one objective moral principle."

Now to win the debate I just need to rebut (rather than refute) Pro, meaning I can merely show that he fails to adequately justify the belief that there is not at least one objective moral principle. But that would be far too easy, and so for entertainment as well as educational value I shall refute Pro's radical claim and show that there is at least one objective moral principle. I'll do this with two contentions (and their supporting arguments) outlined in my opening round. Thank you Pro. [2]


Debate Round No. 1


-Thank you to con for accepting my debate. I look forward to an intriguing and informative debate.

-First off I would like to quickly clarify my position. I advocate the position of metaethical moral relativism.

"The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons."

- I apologize for altering the terms of my debate, but I do not believe this will serve as a hindrance in any way. I will now present the most incisive and thought-provoking arguments in favor of moral relativism.

Opening Statements:

-In a sense, morality may be objective; however, this objectivity is relative to independent cultures and societies as they transform due to the temporal disintegration that inevitably occurs and culminates in their upheaval, as all civilizations do. The objectivity of their moral principles die with their society. Every society, culture, civilization, tradition, political agenda, etc. that institutes a moral code or principle has the authority to do so within the confines of their domain, as in their followers or constituents. They all possess a different conceptual scheme, and as all conceptual schemes are incommensurable, the ability to speak of morality in concrete terms is greatly diminished.

-The absence of a god or ultimate entity who possesses the capability of judging morality from an unbiased perspective allows for morality itself to be relative. The society is the entity that determines the morality of its people, and as all societies possess equal merit, the implemented moral codes all possess equal merit.

Contention 1: Cultural Diversity

-The vast amount of cultures that exist, or have ever existed, all espouse, however similar they may appear, different ethical principles. The fact that no two societies implement the exact same moral code leads to a diminished possibility of their being a true, universal system of morality and ethics. If there is an absolute, universal moral code, then why do multiple views concerning what one should do in an ethical dilemma exist? Would mankind not already have discovered the correct path to take in a moral conundrum. The argument of diversity is not a conclusive one, it does specifically outlaw the possibility of an absolute moral code; however, the increased skepticism does not nothing to promote the likelihood that one exists.

-Another point that I need to make is that although various moral codes exist, this does not directly outlaw the existence of a universally binding moral system. The burden of proof for anyone advocating a universal moral code is tasked with explaining what a universal moral code would be. The comparison can be made to religion. The plethora of religions that have and will exist in the past and present do not directly point to one being the true and infallible religion that all must adhere to. Another issue is the impossibility of defining what this moral code would look like, and how one can be objectively determined.

Contention 2: Lack of an objective, unbiased observer

- In order for a moral truth to be deemed "absolutely" true, there must be an universal lawgiver who has the authority to ordain a moral principle as "right" or "wrong". Without divine sanction, the only possible alternative would be to establish a universal moral code based off of secular principles. The "enlightenment project" as it has been dubbed by Alasdair MacIntyre, seeks to do just that. The issue with this is the fact that all the subsequent philosophers, such as Kant and Mill, disagree on what this absolute moral code should be. This inability does nothing to promote the chances of one existing in reality.

-A distinction must be made between value judgments and factual statements. Every moral principle is established based off of at least one value-laden judgment. These moral presuppositions are categorically different from any justifiable moral principle, thus disallowing any possibility of valid proof to be asserted.

"For example, an argument to prove that a husband should not beat his wife will probably rest on the assumption that men and women should enjoy equal rights. But how does one prove this to someone who categorically denies it? How does one prove that the intrinsic value of happiness should be the foundation of our moral judgments to someone who thinks that family honor is the most important value of all? Or how does one prove that individual rights are a primary good to someone whose theoretical bottom line is that individuals should be subservient to the state?"

-This is copied directly from one source that I will cite at the end of opening arguments. The above paragraph elucidates exactly what I am attempting to prove in contentions. Happiness and honor are both placed on a pedestal above the other due to a prefigured and predetermined disposition, as opposed to any inherent truth possessed by either one. The same applies to the discrepancy over individual rights versus subservience. Augmenting the importance of one over the other is the result of one"s own personal inclination, not the result of adherence to universal moral system.

-Science is a great example of convergence, there exists a global acceptance of methodology, data, theories, and conclusions. The reality of this creates, in essence, an independent, objective system that operates within the realm of natural science. Within morality and ethics, no such system exists. The line between moral codes enacted by various countries tend to be blurred by overlap on some issues, and divergence on others.

Syllogism illustrating the aforementioned train of thought:

(1) Let A and B be two cultural groups, and let p be any moral judgment. For this example, let p refer to the belief that female excision (circumcision) is morally permissible.

(2) A and B disagree over p. (A thinks that p is true; B thinks that p is false.)

(3) Therefore, (2) p is true for group A and p is false for group B.

-The ebb and flow of the moral zeitgeist eliminates moral codes as others are built up.

Contention 3: Cognitive relativism

-According to this stance, the truth value of any moral principle is relative to a conceptual scheme or theoretical framework, which would the culture or society in question. The other claim espoused by those who advocate this form of moral relativism is that no society is metaphysically privileged over any other. There is no objective reality, or society in which all other moral systems are derived from. The value of a truth claim is not obtained from an independent, or objective reality; instead, the truth or falsity of a moral principle is achieved when it is enacted in accordance with one"s, or the society"s, with the perceptions, values, assumptions, or beliefs of said entity. The moral principle in question is determined by its rationality and justifiability is coherent with the surrounding conceptual scheme.

-An example of this would be the heliocentric world view, the notion that the earth revolves around the sun. This idea is false in accordance with a dark ages framework, but is true for in accordance with our modern conceptual scheme.

-To provide an ethical scenario would be an assertion such as "homosexuality is moral". The claim would be false for fundamental, conservative Christians; however, such a claim is true for twenty-first century liberals. This example and the previous one are analogous one another.


-Thank you to my opponent for taking part in this debate. I look forward to hearing your contentions and supporting statements and subsequent rebuttals.

-Best of luck



Against Moral Subjectivism

The fundamental question is,

“Do morals themselves change because they are ontologically based on the changing cultures? Or do our subjective ideas about an objectively existing morality change due to our limited cognitive powers in discovering reality?”

Con’s “yes” to the first question lacks any sound reason because the entirety of his case is summed up by these fallacies:

Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy [3]

Con uses the change of moral views as evidence against moral realism. But such change regarding moral value and duty is actually compatible with -- and better explained by -- the realist! Con mistakes the correlations of the changes of the subject(s) with the causation of morals; just because the subject changes, whether within and across cultures or personal, that doesn’t imply that therefore morality itself change because of the subjective shifting. For example, the interpretation of celestial bodies such as the moon and Venus changed throughout cultures, that change of interpretation however, doesn’t imply that the moon and Venus only exist in the human mind!

Further, these moral view changes can’t count as evidence against the transcendent reality of morality because the realist expects us to shift our views as we learn more about reality and so likewise the moral realist expects disagreement between and across cultures mainly because we gradually and fallibly apprehend the moral reality.

Fallacy of petitio principii [4]

Con only points to features of subjectivism for support for moral subjectivism; this is text-book question begging. He is also guilty of this circular reasoning elsewhere, such as when he argues that God doesn’t exist and so within the absence of an objective moral prescriber, we’re without objective prescriptions: yet he hasn’t falsified theism, which is what he must do in order to say that there exists no objective morality.

Genetic fallacy [5]

Note the difference between moral epistemology (which studies how we come to know or justify moral judgements) and moral ontology ( which concerns the proper foundation for morals, how they exist, their nature, etc) … moral ontology is only relevant to our debate since it deals with meta-ethical questions, not ethical questions.

Con’s case is entirely built from ethical questions dealing with moral epistemology, but such questions are irrelevant to questions of moral ontology, or meta-ethical concerns. Con therefore commits the genetic fallacy by using how we come to know about morals (through culture, etc) in order to try and disprove the existence of morality itself.

Self refuting [6]

Con argues that “all conceptual schemes are incommensurable” .. however that statement itself is built upon Con’s conceptual scheme and so if his scheme here isn’t able to be measured against logic, then his argument is ultimately nothing more than an artistic expression which is free to reject. Indeed this notion of the incommensurability of concepts is argued for using reason (albeit shoddy reasoning); a conceptual scheme by its own right.

Notice also that Con affirms “all societies possess equal merit” while affirming relativism! He therefore affirms what he denies, that there’s at minimum one moral principle that holds across societies, namely that each should hold equal merit.

Fallacy of the inverse [7]

Con argues that without God then moral realism is false, and I agree, however God is just a necessary condition for moral realism, he isn’t the sufficient condition. Con is guilty then of denying the antecedent in attempting to deny the consequent. There can be many other necessary conditions for moral realism such as moral Platonism, etc. Con is guilty of backwards logic here.

Straw-man fallacy [8]

Upon realizing that Con’s vulgarized or relativized form of moral ontology is clearly wanting, he subtly changes position and redefines his ontology as “not absolute or universal.”

Well I agree that morals are not always absolute, but the resolution is about whether morals exist in a subjective or objective way, not whether they exist in an absolute or universal way; e.g., acting justly can be objectively good without being absolutely good.

Con admits to this altering, “I apologize for altering the terms of my debate,” ... he spends his entire opening round attacking a straw-man, he attacks absolutism rather than objectivism: this should count as a violation of conduct if continued.

Con also commits this genetic fallacy in asking, “If there is an absolute, universal moral code, then why do multiple views concerning what one should do in an ethical dilemma exist?”

But this is an ethical dilemma, not meta-ethical, and we’re talking meta-ethics in this debate!

Also, happiness is an experience that is an intrinsic good, but it’s not a moral good, it’s an existential good, so that’s also irrelevant to our debate.

Explaining the explanation fallacy

The moral realist is by no means “tasked with explaining what a universal moral code would be.” Such a demand would equally force the scientist to explain all of physical reality prior to affirming that it exists! Clearly the physical world existed long before we explained anything about it. So likewise Con can’t argue that moral value can’t exist until humans can explain it. Con’s charge here would lead us into an infinite regress of explanation such that knowledge would be impossible - we would have to explain the explanation of the explanation, ad infinitum!

False analogy fallacy [9]

It’s completely naive to say that a global acceptance of methodology, data, theories, and conclusions exists within the scientific community. Which methodology is Con even referring to? The hypothetico-deductive model, inductivism, Lauden’s hard core vs protective belt, etc? There is no one scientific method, no flow chart for discovery, the best we have is subjective observation with experimentation that relies on theory coupled with Bayesian inference with prior probabilities which are themselve most plausibly subjective! [10] It’s all based upon perception, something which Con would have us deny in an ad hoc way whence perceiving morality.

And in fact when it comes to meta-ethics, there is great convergence among moral philosophers! Just a quick internet search reveals that, "..few philosophers would claim to be nihilists.." [11].

I would actually argue that more investigators of meta-ethics are moral realists than investigators of science agree on proper method (just think of the difference between historical science like geology and history vs empirical science like chemistry and physics)! Con’s point here is a major blunder.

In summary, difference of judgements simply don’t imply that there is not an objectively right and wrong judgement. If anything, it reinforces the fact that someone is truly wrong, given the staunchness of disagreement! Hitler was wrong and he would have been wrong even if the right side didn’t stand in victory today.

For Moral Objectivism

It seems that our moral experience is on a par with our sensory experience. We perceive external truths just as we perceive the internal truth of morals. In moral experience we apprehend a realm of objective morals, just as in sensory experience we apprehend a realm of the physical world.

There is therefore no more reason to deny moral objectivity than there is to deny the physical world. Literally, if you are skeptical of the objectivity of morals, then you ought to also doubt that you have a head! So in the absence of any type of defeater for both perceptions, we're rational to trust both types of perceptions given that Con hasn’t offered any defeater for us. No doubt we can be wrong in our interpretations of what we perceive, or our moral perceptual faculties can be damaged, but so can our sense faculties; but does a blind man have any say on whether there’s a tree in front of a man with 20x20 vision?

Moreover, concerning the apprehension of objective moral truths, philosopher Michael Ruse affirms that "the man who says it's acceptable to rape a child is just as mistaken as saying 2+2=5!" Surely actions like rape aren't just socially unacceptable, they are moral abominations! People who fail to see this are simply morally handicapped and there's no reason to allow their impaired vision to call into question what we clearly see in our moral perception. Thus any arguments for moral nihilism will always include premises which are less obvious.

Here are further examples of Con’s less obvious premises. Con asks, “would mankind not already have discovered the correct path to take[?]” Who’s to say mankind hasn’t? Why does the near global court system exist if our perception of morality was a known illusion like that of a bent straw in water? Likewise why does the near global scientific lab system exist if our perception of the external world was a known illusion?

Honor is a moral good, just like justice, equality (as Con affirmed), and forbearance, etc. Con as a subjectivist would have us believe that there is a possible state of circumstances in which injustice, dishonor, malevolence, etc are all morally good. How does he support this?

He simply cites personal inclination… well so what? It was Hitler’s personal inclination to torture and murder innocent Jewish babies, does Hitler’s insane inclination therefore undercut our sane inclination? How is the mistaken view of one person at all relevent to what another person clearly sees?









10. Theory & Reality, Godfrey-Smith, p.161 footnote


Debate Round No. 2


I no longer wish to take part in this debate. It's not that I concede, I still remain committed to my ethical philosophy. The issue is that I have lost all desire to continue debating. I no longer plan to take part in debates due to my struggles with depression and side affects of suicide medication. Thank you to my opponent for providing an extensive and coherent argument.

I wish you the best of luck in the future,



I fully acknowledge Andrew for his honesty and and respect his desire to discontinue our debate given external circumstances.

Andrew you brought forth a valiant case, and you should certainly continue to develop your views in the future given your skills.

Extend all arguments.
Debate Round No. 3


Thank you for understanding, again I apologize. I enjoyed this debate and hope I live long enough to enhance my supposed debating skills.

I apologize to any voters that decide to voice their opinion concerning this debate. I take responsibility, please vote in favor of con. He deserves it.


Extend arguments.
Debate Round No. 4
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by AndrewB686 2 years ago
Thank you
Posted by Jakeross6 2 years ago
Beautiful opening statements.
Posted by AndrewB686 2 years ago
I apologize for taking a long time, this debate requires a great deal of research and thought.
Posted by Jakeross6 2 years ago
This will be fun
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by thett3 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro conceded