Objective Morality: Much Ado About Nothing?

by Terry Lewis

Earlier this year, an early-morning storm passed through our area, causing schools to open late. Some counties announced they would open schools one hour late. Others announced that school would begin at 9:30 am.

Our county? Officials announced that school would begin “after the storms were over.”

Imagine the confusion this created, as the storms dissipated in some areas, and continued in others! Parents and students wondered exactly when school would start. Instead of providing a definite starting time for county students, the officials based the starting time on, at a minimum, two variable factors: the weather conditions at the student’s home, and each person’s idea of what it means for a storm to be “over”. This, of course, varies widely; In my opinion, a storm is “over” when it no longer poses a serious threat of damage. My aunt, who was terrified of storms, would insist that a storm isn’t “over” until the sky is clear for at least an hour!

Imagine what would happen if our government wrote our laws like this! If tomorrow, our legislators declared that all speed limits were repealed, and law enforcement officers were empowered to arrest those who were driving “too fast”, chaos would reign! How fast is “too fast”? It’s a safe bet that your idea of “too fast” is not the same as mine… and neither of us are likely to agree with the cop that has just pulled us over! Without a legal fact… a clearly-written and duly-established law, all legal opinions are equally valid… and thus are completely useless for governing anyone other than the holder of that opinion!

For this reason, modern legislators and lawyers spend enormous amounts of time fretting over the exact phrasing of a document. Companies spend huge amounts of money to remove as much opinion as possible from the wording of a contract.  And even after adding all of the “legalese”, litigants still debate the meaning of even the smallest words. (After all, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is“!)  Our laws and regulations must be objective, based in external facts independent of any one person’s opinions, in order to be meaningful.

In the same way, subjective moral opinion, in the absence of objective moral facts, is effectively no morality at all…

Objective Morality: Much Ado About Nothing?