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Morals and Ethics are a subjective matter

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/29/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,763 times Debate No: 29683
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (11)
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After studying a few debates to see how they are structured, I feel that I am prepared enough to host my first debate upon this site. One of my favorite issues.

Resolved: Morals and Ethics are Subjective things

Lets get some definitions then, shall we?

Morals and Ethics: Essentially a code of conduct that guides the actions of rational beings (for example, humans)

Subjective: Differing based upon the view of the person. This is opposed to objective, which would not be differing from person to person.

To keep consistent with the "meta" of the site, this first round will be for acceptance and statement of position (opposite of my own). Then the next round is where arguments shall begin in earnest. The final round shall be void of any form of new argumentation, as that wouldn't exactly be fair, now would it?

I do wish luck to whomever decides to accept my querry, and hope that they, as well as I, grow a great deal from a hopefully intellectual discussion of ethics.


Excellent proposition! I will gladly argue this topic.

I assume we are making constructive arguments in the 2nd round?
Debate Round No. 1


I would like to thank my opponent for his acceptance and understanding of the "meta" of the site. Good to know that how I understood it was not flawed. Without any further hesitation, I shall commence henceforth.


Knowledge is such an interesting thing. It allows our minds to expand and acknowledge certain things in life, and allow us to form conceptions of mind about them. Knowledge allows us to form opinions and judgements about the world around us. For example, before I know that 1 + 1 = 2, I need to understand what the numerical values "1" and "2" represent, what it means to add two things, and how to equate two different things together to form one collective thing. Once I know these things, I am able to use that knowledge to accurately assess the statement "1 + 1 = 2". Without this knowledge, it would prevent me from being able to judge that statement.

Right and Wrong

Knowledge allows us to understand things like right and wrong. For example, if a small child tries to sneak a cookie from the cookie jar without his parents knowing, he will get punished and told he was being bad. This punishment gives him the knowledge that "taking cookies without telling the parents is bad". Without taking that action and aquiring that knowledge, he wouldn't have been able to know that it was bad at all. To step up the grievity of the offense, if I hit my sister, not only do my parents beat me with a lead pipe (just kidding), but they tell me that I shouldn't do that and hitting my sister is wrong. Had I not hit my sister, I would've never gained the knowledge that "hitting people is wrong" and may have later gone on in my life to abuse someone more important, like my wife or children (just kidding, again).

Knowledge is subjective

This is fairly self-evident. We all know certain things and on certain levels. We all don't know the same things and don't know the same things.


Morality is subjective. If we gain right and wrong from what we know, and we all know different things, then we all know different rights and wrongs. If we all know different rights and wrongs, then we cannot say there is one objective set of rights and wrongs because if this was true, then we would all have to know the same rights and wrongs, meaning we would all have to experience the same things in life. Since this evidently isn't true, morality, thusly, cannot be objective.

To put my main argument in a syllogistic form:

P1) Knowledge teaches us right and wrong
P2) We all know different things
C) Morality is subjective

I await my opponent's response.


I'd like to thank my opponent for entertaining this topic today and hope that we can achieve a constructive and educational discussion.

When you think of the word “good”, what comes to mind? Where does this idea come from? How did you learn it? Keep these questions in mind through the rest of this debate.

I will provide some brief responses to his constructive and go on to make my case.

I agree that knowledge is subjective. There are basics of knowledge that we are taught; be it from rote memory, punishment/reward or from discourse and experiential learning. Concepts like “ownership”, in the example of taking a cookie are taught in this manner and are not ideas that we know prima facia as individuals. However, I would point out that the reactions to such concepts are matters of respect and submission, not purely an instilling of internal morality.

In the example of hitting his metaphorical sister, my opponent would defer to the position of his parents and submit to the concept that hitting his sister is wrong. However, the only reason that such submission occurs is the consequences that would be enforced upon him are disadvantageous, e.g. being annoyed by parents or being hit with a lead pipe (joking or not, this is analogous to other forms of consequences that are enforced upon us).

Developmental Morals
Developmental psychologists argue that there are several types of morality that have the potential to evolve to the next form. [1] The most basic of which is “Obedience and Punishment”, which I would argue in the individual is not morality – it is pure risk aversion of punishment. It is not morality because the decisions to do or not do an action are external and enforced upon us; independent of such a system we would not keep ourselves to the same “moral” standard, meaning that such morality is not internalized.

The key division here that I am attempting to make is that morality, in order to be subjective, is an internal function. By and large, individuals do not have an internal morality, only a risk aversion to what consequences their society puts on them. In “The Republic” by Plato, the character of Socrates grapples with the implications of when an individual is not subjected to a system of justice. Posed in the question of (I am paraphrasing here) if a man had a ring that granted him invisibility, would he go about his day as normal or would he commit crimes and fulfill his desires? Ultimately, Plato fails to substantially prove that an individual would keep to the moral standard society puts upon them – meaning that the external morality, the morality we “learn”, can never be internalized. While this is a theoretical situation, the implications are that without such monitoring we shirk morality and act according to our desires. When we are not subject to a system of submission, we become immoral actors.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant argues that morality is deontological, that “actions are morally right in virtue of their motives, which must derive more from duty than from inclination.” [2] The “duty” that Kant refers to is legalistic law, rules that we must always act in accordance to or in the faith of in order to be moral actors; I would argue that this extends to and is a product of societal morality as when we consider the genesis of such laws they are defined and promoted by whatever the society ruled by those laws believe.

Societal Morality

So then comes the necessary question: where does this societal morality come from? While I could be tangential and examine cultural & religious history, lets keep it simple and consider the constructs of morality in our societies.

As referred to earlier, there are various stages of morality and I would reiterate that the vast majority of individuals remain at the first and second stages of morality which are both based in reaction to external moralities. However, there are some that are able to evolve to the higher levels of morality, namely the socioeconomic and spiritual elites. These elites use their position in society to determine what is and what is not right, usually to maintain their own status, but have a working concept of the “social contract” in which to evaluate and restructure society with “morals” and laws by which we should abide, should submit to. But how do they hold this position which determines our own morality?

Wandering into metaphysics again, Karl Marx refers to such moralities as “ideals” that are socially constructed by those with economic and governmental control. In his Material Dialectic, he proposes that society can be conceptualized as two different structures, the Social Structure (wherin there are state and non-state actors) and the Material Structure (where economics and production are main determinates). The relationship, which others have added upon, is like a two-way road where both influence the other. A key part of this influence is those of leaders within the Material Structure upon leaders within the Social Structure who in turn use state actors (e.g. the IRS, the Public School System, the Judicial Courts, Police Departments, etc.) and non-state actors (e.g. the Roman Catholic Church, Toms Shoes, the Tea Party Movement, etc.) to influence the vast majority of the People with what is right and wrong, both legalistically and heuristically.


In short, this influence produces submission to another morality through the actors that we are taught what right and wrong are. The social ideas that set the standard, or “duty” of morality as Kant would say, are not our own, they are external. They are objective. While I would concede it is possible to internalize and reevaluate these moralities, there are two problems:
  1. Our sense of morality is defined prima facia before internalizing and reevaluating morals (e.g. "Freedom" is always good in the opinion of Americans).
  2. State and non-state actors constantly retrain us into the accepted social morality, the accepted objective morality.
Therefore there is no escape from the externality of morality. Morality always will be objective as we do not have the power to defy the moralities enforced upon us.

To adopt Warabe's use of the syllogistic formula:

P1) We submit to moralities of Right and Wrong

P2) Right and Wrong are socially defined by elites

C) Morality is external, therefore objective


Debate Round No. 2


I'd like to thank my opponent for his timely response, and appologize for the delay with mine. Without further wait, I shall start.

The problem with my opponent's case is founded within a few errors and fallacies:

Firstly, My opponent makes no distinction between this risk aversion and subjective morality. He's claiming that this "internal morality" we have is simply a risk aversion device we hold to choose actions that benefit us over actions that harm us, but he gives no warrant as to why that isn't subjective morality. So even if I were to concede this point as true, it does nothing to refute my case.

Secondly, he gives no warrant as to why morality must be internalized to be subjective. He also gives no warrant as to why external morality is prima facie objective. I certainly don't want to believe that if I were to travel to my opponent's residence and told him what was right and what was wrong, my views would suddenly become objective for him.

Thirdly, my opponent makes the argument from authority fallacy when claiming that because Plato couldn't come up with a way to internalize societal norms, that it's impossible to internalize societal norms. In fact, I would say that the way that people conform to things like peer pressure in our modern day society would be a perfect example of how we CAN internalize societal norms. So since my opponent is advocating that morality must be internal to be subjective, this argument actually functions against his case and helps mine. He gives two responses to this if it were conceded in my favor, which are both also flawed. Of course, both are without anything in the way of a warrant, but let's go specifically to each point.

Point 1 only begs the question of why we value certain principles and why it comes before our reevaluation of morals, a question which he gives no answer for. This only links back further into subjectivism.

Point 2 only turns my opponent's case around onto his head by essentially conceding that this societal morality my opponent is advocating for is entirely subjective. If it were objective, there would be no "re-training" required, as it would all be instilled in us from the very start, meaning no actual modification or teaching required.

Fourthly, my opponent gives no actual warrant for why societal morality is objective, but rather just asserts that this is true. If anything I can simply say that because all societies are different (it would be quite the logical stretch to say that Hong Kong and New York have the same societies, or something like London and Beijing or the like), and these socieities impose their own societal moralities, that this actually proves a subjective morality rather than an objective morality. If it's just these elites who have "evovled" to higher socioeconomic status, then them just setting and editing the "societal morality" would be in a constant flux, and would be thus subjective.

And fifthly, even if you don't believe a single syllable I have spoken so far, a state or society cannot divulge some sort of moral code onto us because it's not even a moral actor capable of being held morally accountable. Lloyd Gerson[1] explains that in order to be a moral agent, the agent-in-question must be able to be held morally accountable for their actions. A child can be held morally accountable for hitting someone, and thus would be a moral agent, while compared to something like a hurricane or a tornado, that cannot be held accountable for their action. Why can't a society or state be held morally accountable for their actions? Gerson continues to explain[1] that because states and societies do not hold second order desires. A first order desire would be, for example, to want to excersize, whereas a second-order desire would be to want to have that desire performed or to not want that desire to happen at all. Why can't societies hold second-order desires? Because only an individiual person can hold a second-order desire.[1] A state or society can have the first-order desire to do an action, but it cannot hold the second-order desire to hold or not hold that desire. So if society is really where we draw our moral principles from, then we would descend into a nihilistic world where morality could not possibly be objective, thus leaving only subjective.

With my opponent's case dismantled, I would like to address his responses to my case, which will be below.


With my opponent's non-existent arguments against my case refuted, let's look to what he conceded or dropped.

My opponent conceded that knowledge is subjective. He also dropped that knowledge is where we derrive right and wrong from, since I can only know that punching an elderly woman is wrong if I have the knowledge to inform me of such. This means he has conceded my first premise, and dropped the second one. This automatically validates my conclusion, that morality is subjective. This is true because in order for morality to be objective, we would all have to possess the same knowledge of what is right and wrong. Since this is evidently not-true from any simple glance out a window into the outside world, we can easily declare morality to be subjective right here.

As such, I must urge a pro vote in the resolution today to declare morality to be subjective. I now pass the floor to my opponent.


[1] Lloyd Gerson. “The Morality of Nations: An Aristotelian Approach.” Published in Aristotle’s Politics Today, compiled by Lenn E. Goodman and Robert B. Talisse. Albany: SUNY Press, 2007.


I thank my opponent for his thoughtful responses and would like to apologize for replying in the eleventh hour. Let's get on with it.

Internal Morality
"Firstly, My opponent makes no distinction between this risk aversion and subjective morality."
True, I failed to make this distinction clearly, allow me to clarify. The root of developmental morality in psychology comes out of Freudian psychoanalytics, everyone probably knows what he was about: Id, Ego & Superego. The Id is our basic desires and the Superego are the pressures of society to act within a moral code, however the Ego is often misunderstood as our own supposed "subjective" morality but it is not. "According to Freud, the ego is part of personality that mediates the demands of the id, the superego and reality. "[1] The Ego isn't a guiding structure in of itself " it does not exist without internal desires and the external rules " it is a concept of conflict mediation created by the play between the two. It is a reaction to conflicts of interest and does not have unique drives of it's own. Perhaps this point doesn't refute your case, but when you allow my State arguments to go unchallenged your case sure is refuted.

"Secondly, he gives no warrant as to why morality must be internalized to be subjective."
Refer to "The Republic" warrant if you want one. Simply claiming no warrant doesn't protect you from my analysis either, especially when you give no counter warrant yourself. While my opponent does hold a hope that his morality would not be objective to me if he came to my house, which is true because we'd be having a lively debate, the point is that when morality is supported by force it becomes objective and unquestionable. If Warabe came to my house with a shotgun leveled or a S.W.A.T. opening the door for him, I'd be in a submissive mood.

Can We Internalize?
"Thirdly, my opponent makes the argument from authority fallacy when claiming that because Plato couldn't come up with a way to internalize societal norms..."
1. This isn't an argument from authority fallacy, Plato is about as legit as you can get... Yo.

2. To simply elaborate, conformity never lasts. Whatever group you enter next will change your conformation as by your own argumentation, peer pressure is a great example of morality being imposed. The problem that my opponent continually has is demonstrating how morality can be solidified in a person versus another morality in order to create a synthesis between the two to have a subjective morality. That is the necessary component of a subjective morality that he has continually failed to demonstrate. My argument, to clarify, is that the only solid morality that exists is the objective one forced upon us by society.

Morality of Nations
"Fourthly, my opponent gives no actual warrant for why societal morality is objective..."
Really? Look to my following arguments for where my warrants were. Failing that, consider the analytics.

"...a state or society cannot divulge some sort of moral code onto us because it's not even a moral actor capable of being held morally accountable. Lloyd Gerson explains..."
Cool little known source, problem is Gerson, if anything, supports my argument. After all, when did I ever say that the State is the source of this objective morality?

1. My opponent is making the real Argument from Authority Fallacy; you use a single author, who I've actually never heard of even though I'm studying modern Sophists and Neo-Aristotelians right now (yeah, I've got a lot of interests). Gerson makes all of these assertions independent of others in the field considering the lack of citations in his paper, only sighting three other scholars as far as I can see. Meaning, when we consider what a fallacious appeal to authority is[1], my opponent makes this fallacy when he fails to support Gerson with other authors.

2. Let's consider what Gerson actually says instead of paraphrasing him:
"In fact, it frequently appears that the proposal of employing the fiction of moral agency when talking about nations is itself based upon moral considerations. It is supposed that the fiction is a legitimate facilitator for connecting the moral prescriptions devolving upon individuals with other individuals belonging to other nations. The fiction has a kind of negative effect. That is, there is nothing about a nation that prevents the internationalization of morality. On the contrary, nations are just delivery systems for the actions flowing from moral prescriptions." pp. 78-79 [2]
Returning to the dropped argument that state and non-state actors enforce morality legalistically and heuristically (Marx's Material Dialectic), Gerson supports this assertion in his critique of the State. Meaning, that states are simply tools for the power elite to dictate their own morality, their "moral prescriptions". The State is a vehicle for them. While my opponent continually asks why this is objective, I'll answer again: such a morality that we submit to cannot be questioned nor reinterpreted, therefore it is objective because it is not influenced by our own feelings as subjects of the State. [3]

3. Warabe asserts and I concede that State cannot be held morally responsible. True words. When was the last time liberal commentators held President Obama to the same standard of "anything we can do to save a child's life, is worth doing" that he's used to further his Gun Control push in his use of drones overseas? Which, by the way, kills a ton of children, 178 as of December. [4] This only solidifies my argument that the morality that is pressed onto us cannot be questioned. The State may choose to entertain popular arguments, such as gun control, but only for it's own ends. I mean really, what would happen if there was an effectual assault weapons ban? The American people would have no means to defend themselves from an overreaching authority that we've already established cannot be morally objected to. If anything, this unquestionable position only empowers the State against the protests of it's subjects and their attempts to create subjective morality. Meaning? Holy guacamole, the objectivity of morality enforced by the State is more powerful than I first thought.

Finally, I'd like to remind everyone about the fellow who hasn't been getting much attention: Kant. Using his analysis and the power of the State, the only morality that exists is his idea of "duty" which is created and enforced by the State.

So, what the heck does this all mean? The way this debate has progressed so far is that while Warabe has presented a seemingly common sense case, when compared against the overwhelming power of submission employed by the State and society, there is no such thing as "subjective" morality. While you, the reader, may disagree, my opponent has failed to articulate how an individual, the only possible location of a subjective morality, can resist the power of the State. This alone shows how my case overwhelms his.

Secondly, my opponent's attempts at offense on my case have been unsuccessful, only giving me the prompt to either clarify my case or use his own arguments against him, such as his Gerson warrant.

My contentions still stand, have been empowered and function over his own.

Also, final note, saying points 1 & 2 are turned on their heads does not make it so. Considering there's no articulation there on WHY and my opponent is just trying to mischaracterize the debate, such assertions shuld be disregarded.
Debate Round No. 3


Warabe forfeited this round.


I'd like to thank my opponent, I am dissapointed to see him go but this has been a very interesting and challenging debate. Warabe, I hope that you return to DDO in the future.

Summary of the round
The lack of response from the Pro in R4 should not discount his arguments from being considered by the voters here, please consider his arguments in competition with mine. I'll summarize the Pro and Con case (hopefully without commiting a straw man fallacy) and go on to give the reasons why my arguments are superior.

Pro: Knowledge is subjective and defines our morality. We have the personal agency to interperet knowledge and make descisions on how to act in the world based upon our interpretations.

Con: Morality is defined by the elites and forced upon the individual. Because of the overwhelming strength of the State, subjective morality is possible but it is fleeting and brief, whereas objective morality, defined by the society we live in and State we live under, is permenant and the most pervasive.

Reasons to Vote for Con
1. On the merit of sources used: I have identified several emminent authors and used them to support my case. The Pro only uses one in R3 attempting to undercut my counter-case but fundamentally misunderstands the role of the State in enforcing morality allowing Con to turn the Gerson source against Pro. While analytical arguments are persuasive, the validity of such arguments without sources to support such arguments is questionable.
2. On the merit of argumentation: I've made solid argumentation in this debate, regularly turning my opponent's arguments against him (e.g. Argument from Authoity Fallacy, travelling to my residence, the Morality of the State).
3. The internalization of morality: I have proved throughout my case that it is incredibly difficult to internalize a morality (thereby making it subjective) and that by and large we only operate under an external morality in order to avoid retribution. Since internalization is neigh-impossible, the most common and most powerful form of morality is external and objective relative to the average individual.
4. In comparison of the Pro's Case and the Con's Counter-Case, the Counter-Case has been shown to have much more strength in it's application where as the Case pales in comparison since the mechanisms of morality have been shown to lie in the Counter-Case and the Pro has not demonstrated how the individual can successfully resist the mechanisms of the State.

I thank my opponent for his participation and hope that we might have the opportunity to do so again in the future.

Voters, regardless of Warabe's account status please vote as normal.
Debate Round No. 4
11 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Krestoff 4 years ago
Pretty much Cyrano, I guess it comes down to the voter to decide which interpretation is more persuasive.

Warabe, thanks for debating with me, I sincerely enjoyed the challenge and hope that you'll come back to DDO at some point.
Posted by Krestoff 4 years ago
Pretty much Cyrano, I guess it comes down to the voter to decide which interpretation is more persuasive.

Warabe, thanks for debating with me, I sincerely enjoyed the challenge and hope that you'll come back to DDO at some point.
Posted by Cyrano 4 years ago
Am I allowed to say it? Not sure of strict debate protocol. If I discuss the definition mid-debate it could influence an argument and thus the outcome.

Anyway, since you asked, it seems to me that Warabe sees "objective" as something universally held regardless of what community or society the individual belongs to. Thus "1+1=2" is objective, but the death penalty being ok is not. Whereas Krestoff sees "objective" as being anything that is not strictly subjective. So a communal/societal belief is objective even if that belief may change over time or may be different in a different society/community. Thus death penalty is objective.

So the whole "societal re-training" thing is seen by one as subjective and the other as objective.
Posted by Krestoff 4 years ago
I'm curious, what would be a better definintion?
Posted by Cyrano 4 years ago
Great topic and something I'm very interested in.
I think there should have been a better definition of 'Objective' though.
Posted by Krestoff 4 years ago
Clarification, what arguments are you talking about that you label Point 1 & Point 2?
Posted by Krestoff 4 years ago
I'm hardly original when it comes to morality debate so that's not too surprising.
Posted by Warabe 4 years ago
I thank you for the compliment, but I must confess that I have faced this form of response before, so I had a general idea of how to respond to it.
Posted by Krestoff 4 years ago
Excellent responses, I will have to take some time as well for mine.
Posted by Warabe 4 years ago
I have devised my response, but due to other arrangements I shall respond anon.
No votes have been placed for this debate.