concept pages: copyright Robert Ellis

Moral objectivity 

Moral objectivity is obviously a central concept in Middle Way philosophy: after which the site is named. Objectivity in Middle Way philosophy is incremental and personal. It does not refer to an absolute God's-eye-view knowledge of the truth.

Moral objectivity does not differ in its nature and justification from objectivity in general, and as a specific term it just marks an emphasis, being objectivity applied to the moral sphere. Since the fact-value distinction is rejected in Middle Way philosophy (on the grounds that in practice, all facts imply values and all values imply facts) objectivity on matters of claimed fact is also by implication moral objectivity. Objectivity consists in our capacity to address conditions and overcome dualistic assumptions in interpreting our experience. This capacity enables us to gain a better understanding of events in the world (including ourselves), and this understanding also simultaneously leads to the more effective channelling of our desires, creating increasing objectivity in our values.

Moral objectivity can also be understood in psychological terms as integration. Integration is just objectivity described psychologically. The integration of our desires has the closest relationship to the moral aspects of objectivity because it is concerned with the energies than motivate us in one direction or another. If our energies are more integrated they can be better channelled towards conditions. The integration of meaning has a closer relationship to aesthetic objectivity, whilst the integration of beliefs has a closer relationship to scientific types of objectivity. Nevertheless, these types of objectivity are so interdependent that their relationship with aspects of objectivity is complex. For example, the integration of belief refers not just to our explicit beliefs but also to our implicit beliefs. If the conflicts between inconsistent beliefs in our psyches are addressed this removes important obstructions to our 'facing up to facts'. But 'facing up to facts' is also very important in moral judgement. Very often our moral awareness is enhanced by being able to look at a situation using new implicit theories that lead us to conceptualise a situation in different moral terms from the ones we were using before.

Moral objectivity in moral decision-making thus consists in the ability to address different kinds of morally significant condition beyond the ones we habitually address. The three kinds of moral theory identify three ways of identifying moral value - through the rational consistency of rules, the personal qualities known as virtues and the regard for the 'facts of the matter' shown in calculations of consequences. We need to be able to switch between these ways of identifying moral value rather than being stuck in one of them, because each can offer ways of facing up to conditions. In this regard moral objectivity consists in a quality of flexibility, together with a determination to channel one's moral feelings in increasingly effective ways.

Links to related discussion

Introduction to the thesis (includes clarification of terms 'moral' and 'objectivity')

Relativism (introductory page)

Ethics (concept page)

Objectivity (concept page)

What is Buddhist Ethics?


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