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The Contender
Con (against)
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right and wrong are objective truths

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/6/2011 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 6,911 times Debate No: 19711
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (1)
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I will be arguing the pro for the position that right and wrong are objective truths that exist outside ourselves.

In other words there is an objective truth about what we ought to do and ought not to do.

Con will argue that right and wrong are subjective.

First round is for acceptance.

Second round is for opening statements.

Third round is for further argument.

Fourth round is for closing arguments.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you for accepting the debate.

Lets begin by being clear about what is meant by saying right and wrong are objective.

Objective in this sense means that right and wrong exist outside of ourselves. In other words right is right because there truly is a standard of behavior that exists whether or not a person believes that standard to be right. It is the same for everyone at all times and in all places.

My argument is that moral truths are similar to mathematical truths or natural laws like gravity. They are real and they provide a standard of behavior that we are obligated to follow.

1: The Case from Argument: (for a fuller and frankly far superior example of this argument see Chapter 1 of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis)

Almost all people argue about what is right and wrong. When someone cuts in line, or someone says something behind someone's back, or someone lies to someone, the injured party is likely to "call the person out" for his behavior. When the injured party does so, the person who has committed the act is likely to do one of two things: apologize, or make an excuse.

By apologizing, the person is admitting that there is a standard of behavior which he has fallen short of upholding.

By making an excuse, the person is admitting there is a standard of behavior, but that he is excused from following it in this instance because of some factor which justifies his behavior. He may say that he said something behind your back, but the person to whom he was speaking misunderstood what he meant, and of course, he never intended to injure your feelings. For the sake of space I will not provide a laundry list of the excuses people make. You and I know them quite well as people have made them to us our entire lives, and at least I have made them to others for the entirety of my life.

The point is that there is no reason to apologize or to make excuses, nor even to "call someone out" on his behavior unless both people believe there to be some shared standard which should guide our behavior.

You will never (except perhaps in the case of the sociopath or apparently some philosophers) hear someone say

"I care not for your standard of behavior. My actions are guided by my subjective ideas about what is right and wrong. You have no more right to accuse me of doing wrong than to say that I am wrong because I do not care for the taste of red onions."

In fact all the evidence I have seen points to the fact that people naturally seem to understand that there are standards and, with few exceptions, people all seem to agree about what those standards are. Which brings me to my next point...

2: Agreement Across Geographic and Cultural Lines

What one notices in reading history is how people groups have viewed moral standards so simlarly. I do not say that all people in all places at all times have agreed about everything but they seem to all agree about most of the major standards of morality.

If one looks at Confucius, Socrates, Jesus Christ, Ghandi, and Marcus Aurelius one will find much more agreement than dissension. Everyone seems to agree that people should not kill other people just for fun,and one should not lie, cheat or steal just to improve one's position. You will be hard pressed to find many people who think that bravery is bad or that kindness is morally repugnant. In fact, when you do see such people in history, they tend to be almost universally condemned as bad men and women. Why is this so?

If moral standards were really subjective to each individual, you would expect to see wide ranging variances concerning what is right and wrong. Instead we see very few variances. We may disagree about whether abortion is wrong, but for most reasonable people the issue is whether it is in fact a child who is being killed. You will find very few who say "I don't care if it is a child. A woman should be able to murder it if she feels like doing so."

We may argue about whether a particular war is morally right to involve ourselves in but those arguing will generally apply the known moral standard to make their points pro and con. Of course if there were no standard outside of ourselves it would be nonsense to argue at all since neither party in the argument could possibly have a truer notion of what was right than the other party because the standards were derived from each person's own particular preferences.


If one does not accept the objectivity of moral standards one has no basis upon which to hold others accountable for their actions. One may choose not to like Charles Manson or Ghengis Khan, or Hitler or Stalin but it would be nonsense to suggest that they were bad men. There would be no such thing as a bad man or a bad woman. Goodbye civil rights, hello subjugation of every person weaker or different than the majority. Of course anyone's argument that society should treat the weaker person with respect would be laughable because there would be no basis, no standard to call to one's aid to make such arguments.

The fact is that every person inherently knows there is a right and a wrong and people usually exhibit signs of what we refer to as a conscience, becoming uneasy when they have violated the standard.

A world of subjective morals is a frightening place. Providentially for us there are clearly moral standards. Right and wrong are objective truths.



My opponents opening arguments
1) People naturally recognize standards, agree on those standards
2) There is a global and cultural consensus on major standards of morality

Objective moral standards, inherent morality/sense of right and wrong

My position and rebuttal
R1) Standards are based on social evolution, fluctuate over time, and are learned
R2) There is no global or cultural consensus on standards of morality

Morality is subjective, thus the world has ever-evolving standards. A person's reaction to doing something ‘wrong' is not inherent, but learned.

1) While my opponent is correct that there is a standard to how a person reacts to a scenario, it does not infer objective morality. Rather it shows the results of learned behavior for the individual, and culmination of social evolution for that culture. That someone wrong feels bad is the result of being conditioned to it.

For example, someone who learned that swearing was immoral would feel bad when they swore, while someone who wasn't, would not, showing that morality, is subjective. This is true at the cultural/social evolutionary level as well, as the standards would be based on which group, was the culturally dominant one.

Standards always change and when people disagree on them we get conflict. Conflict is simply the result of the subjectivity of morality.

Summary: Standards and behavior can be attributed to social evolution and conditioning, not objective or inherent morals.

My opponent continues with a phrase he believes no one would say.
My opponent has phrased what we could describe as ‘rationalization'. Rationalization, and the dismissal of standards (whether social or personal) are common and a regular part of the human mind.

On a social level, I could rationalize cheating on my taxes because the government wastes too much money. Some might consider this action immoral, some might not, its subjective.

A Saudi woman driving a car is rationalizing her need to drive somewhere versus the standard of behavior in her country. Is her action immoral?

This leads us to my opponent's 2nd contention regarding global cultural consensus on morality.

2) The fact that I can pose the above question should partly illustrate the moral divide in the world. This isn't to imply a negative, simply to reinforce the fact that societies evolve differently to different existing stimuli, and therefore adopt different standards.

My opponent uses basic morality to illustrate an agreement in the world. While he is correct that we have agreement on basic moral issues in conceptual form, what is said is not what has been done, and therefore does not reflect human nature.

Great leaders may say we shouldn't kill, and yet lead an army to kill millions. The fact that we agree, and say killing shouldn't be done does not reflect our sense of morality. Rather, the fact that killing occurred all throughout history and continues to this day reflects our social evolution and the subjective morality allowing it to be justified.
My opponent states:

"If moral standards were really subjective to each individual, you would expect to see wide ranging variances concerning what is right and wrong..."

This is in fact what we see. Irreconcilable values leads to conflict. On a global scale these conflicting morals lead to war, rationalizing away any number of general moral standards. On a social level we see some type of conflict everywhere.
Conflict is a reality because subjective morality is a reality.

My opponent begins to use subjective qualifiers as he describes an objectively moral world:

"For most ‘reasonable people' the issue (abortion) is whether it is in fact a child who is being killed"
My opponent is essentially arguing that a person's position on this issue invariably comes down to whether it is ‘a child who is being killed'. He concludes there is an inherent human moral perception dictating this response.

However, if one could (as one does) make an argument of a ‘reasonable person', that also accepted this precept that it is or is not ‘a child being killed', or just ignored it entirely, it would negate this argument, as mere moral subjectivity.
So lets do that.

Is abortion wrong? Maybe.
Is there ever a situation where an abortion is necessary? Maybe.
Do you want the US government to decide when that is? No.

I have made a reasonable pro-choice argument without ever addressing whether ‘it is a child'. I am not saying my opponent's view is wrong, or this is a good argument, simply that our reasoning and thus morals and conclusions are subjective.

My opponent concludes this point:

"You will find very few who say "I don't care if it is a child. A woman should be able to murder it if she feels like doing so.""

I am in fact saying this. (As are enough people culminating in US law) But let me rephrase it so I can better show the rationalization of this subjective moral viewpoint:

Should the government be able to stipulate morality? Maybe. In a sense it already does, as our laws act as a standard of behavior and a generalized morality. Therefore many of the laws of secular western countries are liberalized, acknowledging subjective and pluralistic viewpoints in increasingly diversified cultures.

US federal law therefore reasonably reflects in this instance of moral ambiguity that it should be up to the individual because no consensus can be reached. The rest of this issue is important theologically, but does not make a case for objective morality.

My opponent concludes his 2nd argument by saying that without an objective moral viewpoint, it would be nonsense to argue whether or not a war was morally correct or not.

It is nonsense to argue whether or not a war is morally correct because it is subjective, and anyone can apply any moral guideline they see fit. If one wants to look at it objectively they wouldn't call it immoral.

My opponent concludes with a description of the world without objective morals and effectively describes reality.
"one has no basis upon which to hold others accountable for their actions."

Since we don't have objective moral standards, we (society) find it difficult to know when and how to hold others accountable. This is true globally, culturally, and individually.

"There would be no such thing as a bad man or a bad woman."

There isn't. It's an opinion, a subjective qualifier based on a point of view. A general standard of a culture dictates whether a person is considered good or bad. Thus a worldwide varying response to "Is Osama Bin Laden good or bad?" would be an indication to the lack of global consensus, or objective standard.

"Goodbye civil rights, hello subjugation of every person weaker or different than the majority."

My opponent has once again described reality. Civil and minority rights are recently adopted morals that are the result of the evolution of society. The lack of civil and minority rights we see today are similarly indicative of a world lacking objective and inherent morality.

"…There would be no basis, no standard to call to one's aid to make such arguments."

There is no basis or standard to call on when making moral arguments. However, a logical one will usually suffice for the same ends.

"…Every person inherently knows there is a right and a wrong and people usually exhibit signs of what we refer to as a conscience, becoming uneasy when they have violated the standard."

Behavior is learned and cannot be inherent if it is not universal. People have different standards and often violate them without remorse.

"A world of subjective morals is a frightening place. Providentially for us there are clearly moral standards. Right and wrong are objective truths."

We live in a world of subjective morals, thankfully there are laws based on our current social/cultural values that have evolved over time. If these values were objective, and inherent, they wouldn't need to be learned and changed constantly over time.
Debate Round No. 2


dipnt forfeited this round.


Extend arguments.
Debate Round No. 3


First allow me to apologize to my opponent and any readers of this debate for not getting to my argument in time and therefore forfeiting the last round.

My opponent asserts that morals are subjective because they are based on social evolution, they fluctuate over time and they are learned.

I will address these assertions one at a time.

The first assertion I will address is the assertion that morals are learned. Although I do not agree that morals MUST be taught I do believe my opponent is correct in stating that morals are often learned. However, it does not follow from the fact that something is learned to the conclusion that the thing is not objective.

Example: Math is taught and learned however mathematical truths are objective and universal. It is also possible to arrive at a knowledge of mathematical truths through the use of a person's reason without being taught. E.g. I can see that each time I add one more apple to my grocery cart the total number of apples in my cart increases. Although for most people (at least in places where education is widely available) addition is taught and learned in school. It is not difficult to see that the concept could be discovered by most people without being taught.

Clearly the fact that something is learned does not mean the thing learned is not objective.

The next two assertions I will address together.

My opponent states that moral standards are based on "social evolution" and that they fluctuate.

It appears that these two assertions say in essence the same thing since "evolution" and "fluctuation" both refer to change. Therefore I will take the assertions as one point, that is to say, "Moral standards change as society evolves."

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that what people profess to hold as their moral standards do change as societies evolve, it is clear that this would not have any bearing on whether there were Truly objective moral standards. There are people who believe the earth is flat and people who believe that aliens regularly visit the earth. There are even people who conform their actions to these beliefs. Of course whether the earth is flat and whether we do have alien visitors is not dependent on whether people believe those facts or act in accordance with them.

Objective beliefs do NOT require belief in order to be true. They are True in fact and not subject to the beliefs of any person.

Having said this it is clear that my opponents argument is, at least in some sense, an answer or rebuttal of my arguments. Therefore I will take them as such so long as it is clear that, taken by themselves, as assertions rather than rebuttals, they bring us no further in our search for Truth on the ultimate question of this debate.

As far as the usefulness of my opponents statements for the purpose of rebuttal the first question is are the assertions true? The second question is do they rebutt an assertion I made in my argument?

As far as the latter question is concerned it is important to note that I limited my assertions concerning agreement on moral standards to "major moral standards" lets say things like the 10 commandments in general. No murder, No rape, No lying, cheating, stealing, backstabbing, gossiping, harming people without cause, etc..

My opponent brings up specific cultural examples of moral or legal standards and states that they prove there is no consensus about morals. Of course, I would have to be completely ignorant to have been suggesting that the legal standards for all people in the world were the same. I am aware that a person can rarely travel 50 miles in the United States of America (at least in well populated areas) and not go through several towns, cities or municipalities, let alone states, each of which have a laundry list of laws that differ from the town, city etc. next door.

My contention is that we agree about the basics. Not that we all have deduced to the particulars in the same way.

"Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to-whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked."

C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity

I do not say that women in Saudi Arabia are not treated differently than women in Europe or America. What I do say is that there is an objective standard for how women and men should be treated.

My assertion is, that in all times and places, with few exceptions, people have agreed about the basics of what was right and wrong. It has been in the deduction process from those basic agreed upon Truths to the particular behaviors required by morality where differences have shown themselves.

"Social evolution" is nothing more than using the evidence we have gained from history to attempt to more closely conform our actions to those basic standards than we have in the past.

If all of us believe we should not harm other humans without a just cause. We must further take that standard and apply it to a decision in real life such as whether to go to war with our neighbor because he has something we would like to have. We can look at the evidence from history and see that when we go to war for that reason we end up doing harm to others without a just cause.

"But wait," one may say, "there are those who still will go to war for those very same reasons!"

One may be right that nations do continue behaving this way. In fact my opponent makes the following similar argument:

"My opponent uses basic morality to illustrate an agreement in the world. While he is correct that we have agreement on basic moral issues in conceptual form, what is said is not what has been done, and therefore does not reflect human nature."

As one can see my opponent admits the basis of my argument to be true (that we have agreement on basic moral issues) but he seems to state that because we do not behave in accordance with our professed agreed upon standards those standards do not reflect human nature.

My argument has never been that behaving morally is part of human nature. In fact, my statement at the beginning of this debate is that morals are objective, i.e. they are True OUTSIDE of human nature or any other nature or belief.

The fact is that moral standards often call us to do something other than what our "nature" would desire. I may want to be kind to others and treat them like myself but more likely I desire to have all others treat me well and I would like to treat them however I feel like treating them at any particular time.

One quick note on my opponent's use of law as an argument against objective morality.

My opponent is correct that law is often created to try to promote moral behavior and punish immoral behavior. However, it is rare that law attempts to mold behavior to the highest standards of morality.

It is more common that law operates to keep people from falling below the lowest standard. We may punish a murderer. We do not punish one who does not volunteer enough of his time to help the poor.

Also law is created by men and women who are fallible and have the same difficulty we all have in deducing particular rules from basic known moral standards.

Law is also sometimes created by those who are immoral and used as a tool to further immoral ends. Law is not equivalent to moral standards.

In sum, one cannot believe that Hitler, or Osama bin Laden, or anyone else for that matter, has done anything wrong unless one believes that morality is objective. It is right to do good. It is wrong to do bad. Bad. Morals are objective or the previous two sentences have no meaning.


I would like to thank my opponent for this debate. As this is the final round I will generalize the previous rounds to make my closing arguments, with a short rebuttal to my opponents conclusion.

Moral guidelines are created through the evolution of society and the result of learned behavior. ‘Learned' does not specifically mean ‘formal or informal education', but as a development process. Most morals are not therefore ‘learned' in any formal sense, but often absorbed through osmosis, as a child does through its parents.

However, I digress, as my opponent's focal argument is the existence of ‘objective morality'.


Objective [1] Not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased.

"A square has four equal sides" - Is an objective statement.
An objective moral statement does not exist.

One cannot make a moral judgment without consulting their feelings.
Therefore "objective morals" is an oxymoron.

Since this has been definitively refuted, I would like to take it a step further and address the apparent religious contradiction. It seems arguments of "objective morality" tend to be drawn along lines of ‘Theist and Atheist'. While this perception is generally justified in many debates of this nature, it is not the intent of my argument.

While my arguments refute my opponent's with mostly scientifically based disciplines, it is not intended to contradict any type of theistic view at all. In fact, I believe my position reinforces the theistic point of view, and vice versa.

My opponent points to the Ten Commandment as an acceptable standard of basic morality. What greater example could there be to the lack of moral objectivity, but a divinely given set of morals, literally carved in stone? Even today, without actual stone tablets, they are metaphorically carved into the minds of much of world culture.

Simply from an anthropological view, the passing down of these ‘basic concepts' (Code of Hammurabi, ten commandments etc) shows an exceptional value we (the human race) put on being able to pinpoint basic moral precepts. We have written them down, and passed them down to become entirely ingrained (taught, learned) within our cultures, at least, conceptually.

In this sense, god is saying to learn these ‘objective concepts' because if you don't, you will be directionless and lost in the matrix, driven only by your feelings and subjective moral view…

The very first commandment tells us that even the commandments are subjective. They are based on the view of a particular subject: (And interpreted subjectively with infinite commentary)

Commandment 1: I am God

As a starter for legitimizing a guideline to morality, (assuming it is of divine origin) it is difficult to beat this.
More importantly though, it shows from a theistic point of view, that without God saying, don't kill, don't steal etc, we would be doing these things in even greater numbers, perhaps with no perception at all that it is ‘bad'. (As all religion comes with a requisite ‘moral guideline')

So the question becomes, if these moral concepts are inherent and objective, why would God find it necessary to impart this wisdom upon us?

Though I don't want to speak for god, my argument makes the case that the reason is specifically contrary to my opponent's point of view. While people may want to do ‘good' generally, without any perceived objective foundation, there is no evidence humanity has any idea what ‘good' is.

This struggle between our natural human emotions and what we have chosen as our ‘personal moral guideline' is essential to what makes up the ‘human condition'. These struggles make up how we are perceived by society, and how we view ourselves.

Finally, I would like to directly respond to my opponent final statements.

"In sum, one cannot believe that Hitler, or Osama bin Laden, or anyone else for that matter, has done anything wrong unless one believes that morality is objective."

I find this statement to be ironic on a debate site. No one has done anything wrong until it has been proven using facts. Following this debate I would like my opponent to challenge me to "Hitler is bad" (he as pro) so I can reiterate this point. If one uses only ‘moral arguments' the debate wont even be close. (Anyone can feel free to challenge me to this if they would like, so I can make this point). Nonetheless, there is no ‘moral consensus' on the ‘badness' of Hitler, and/or especially with regards to Osama Bid Laden.

"It is right to do good. It is wrong to do bad. Bad. Morals are objective or the previous two sentences have no meaning."

The previous two sentences, indeed, have no meaning. It is right to do good, and wrong to do bad, essentially have no meaning without a personal, subjective interpretation, and can therefore, NOT be objective.

My opponent has thus negated his own resolution.

I would like to thank my opponent for this debate, and anyone who spent their time reading it.

Debate Round No. 4
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by Reid 6 years ago
I completely agree that they are both objective truths, but I'm curious to see what Con's opening case / arguments will be. Good luck to the both of you!
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by WriterSelbe 6 years ago
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Total points awarded:01 
Reasons for voting decision: Conduct for forfeit.