Monday, November 21, 2011

Misconception of Objective morality 2: Subjective has no role

Though new to me there is a notion of objective morality that exists in the blogsphere that states that if objective morality is true, then the subjective view of an moral agent plays no role in the moral evaluation of the action.  To phrase it more simply, right is right and wrong is wrong regardless of the actor's knowledge.  The argument against objective morality then proceeds to show obvious examples about an actor's knowledge influencing the moral weight of an action.

The problem with this is that objective morality does not exclude the subjective actor's knowledge and/or motivations.  In fact in order to evaluate any moral action we must have some sort of objective standard with which to evaluate the moral agent's actions. 

We will consider some cases to illustrate how the subjective experience influences the evaluation of a particular action.

First, at the risk of invoking Godwin's law we turn to the only person that all Western society can agree was evil.  I present for our first case, Adolf Hitler.  The murders and crimes he committed against the world are quite well know and with few exceptions condemned.  Thus objective morality states that the actions of Adolf Hitler are evil.

Now let us ask the question: Are the actions of Adolf Hitler evil because he knew they were evil?  Or are the actions evil in and of themselves?  The Catholic Church holds that the actions are "intrinsicly evil."  That is, there are no circumstances where the actions of Hitler can be justified.  This is objective morality in the first sense:

That there are actions that are by nature evil in and of themselves.
Now let us consider a second example.  A man is walking down the street and sees a man approach a woman with a knife in his hands.  The streetwalker leaps into action and attempts to stop the attacker, killing him in the process.  The woman screams and points out that the "assailant" and the "victim" are play actors rehearsing. 

A contrived example but it illustrates an important point.  In this case the streetwalker hero is actually a murderer in the strict sense of the term.  He has killed an innocent human being.  Objectively speaking this was an evil act.  However, the personal culpability of the streetwalker is greatly diminished.  His subjective knowledge of the circumstances curbs his personal guilt in this matter.  But this does ot change the objective nature of his action, the murder of an innocent human being, as an evil action.

A final case illustrates how the subjective nature of a moral agent DOES influence if an action is a particular evil or not.  Let us suppose that you go to an auto mechanic, say "Bob's auto shop" and are cheated out of your money.  Sometime after a friend asks for a recommendation for a mechanic.  In your recommendations you mistakenly says that "John's auto shop."  In this case, while the information is false, the intent to deceive is not present.  As such calumny, the intentional spreading of false information, has not occured because the intention to deceive was not present.  There is the evil of false information being spread however.

For the case above objective morality has a second formulation:

X bad action under Y circumstances is evil.
X good action under Y circumstances is good.

In order for certain evil to be committed, the circumstances which oftentimes includes the disposition of the agent performing the action, must be present for the action to be evil. 

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