What is right and wrong? We often judge actions and determine if they are right or wrong. But who decides? According to most theists, it’s God who decides. It is argued that since God transcends reality, the moral rules He gave humanity are objective. Objective rules are not personal preferences; they universally apply to all people at all times.
The word “objective” is used in philosophy to define morality in contrast to "subjective" morality. Objective morality consists of rules that apply to everyone and are not merely personal opinions, whereas subjective morality is based on personal perspectives. For example, one person might consider getting tattoos wrong, while another person sees nothing wrong with it. There are also subjective preferences that are considered neither right nor wrong. For instance, I enjoy rock music, while someone else prefers a different genre. These preferences are simply a matter of personal taste. In a well-functioning society, individuals can freely pursue their subjective preferences without imposing them on others and causing conflicts.
It seems to me that the purpose of morality is to address conflicts. In a peaceful environment where there are no conflicts between individuals, moral rules are unnecessary. However, when conflicts arise, some form of moral guidance is needed to resolve them. Subjective preferences, by their very nature, cannot be turned into universal moral rules because not everyone would agree with them. Imposing these subjective preferences on dissenting individuals would create more conflict instead of resolving it.
Objective moral rules can effectively resolve conflicts because, by their nature, they are meant to apply universally to everyone at all times. In order to achieve this universality, they cannot be mere personal preferences. So, which behavioural prescriptions meet this criterion? It turns out that the only moral prescriptions that can be objective and universally applied are prohibitions. Specifically, prohibitions against actions that, by definition, no one would want to experience. Nobody desires to be murdered because, by definition, murder is killing someone against their will. Prohibiting murder establishes a moral guideline that can be applied universally since everyone desires not to be murdered.
This may seem like playing with semantics, but it is a valid approach. The moral rule "do not murder" is objective because it meets the criteria of objective morality outlined earlier: it can be universally applied and is not a personal opinion. Prohibitions against assault and theft also meet these objective moral criteria. As a result, not engaging in murder, assault, or theft unsurprisingly produces a conflict-free environment. Put simply, any moral rule that applies to everyone at all times and aligns with universal preferences (meaning that, by their own definition, everyone would agree to them) can be considered objective.
Therefore, if we value peace and aim to avoid conflicts, objective moral rules provide a clear path toward achieving that desired state. Objective moral rules play a vital role in maintaining peace and minimizing conflicts within society. Regardless of personal opinions, cultural differences, or situational factors, adherence to objective moral rules will foster an environment of peace where individuals can coexist and thrive.
This blog post represents many years of processing the ethics presented in Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness,” and the theory of ethics presented in Stefan Molyneux’s “Universally Preferable Behaviour,” which attempted to provide a rational basis for the moral rules Objectivists and Libertarians tend to take for granted as being objective.
Rand, Ayn, and Nathaniel Branden. The Virtue of Selfishness. United Kingdom: Penguin Publishing Group, 1970.
Molyneux, Stefan. Universally Preferable Behaviour: A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics. United States: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.