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Is Morality a Matter of Taste?

5. Definitions and Use of 'Objective'

5.3 False Dichotomy

Book cover: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

Thinking more broadly about our two definitions of 'objective' and our two definitions of 'subjective' (in §4 above), I think we can say that ethics has both an 'objective' and a 'subjective' dimension. To say that it is either one or the other is to cast a false dichotomy. Let's look at each of these in turn.

The subjective dimension encapsulates the human-centeredness of morality. I think it captures two aspects:

  1. the evolutionary underpinning of our behaviours. Here, I include the writing of kin altruism in our genes and the social learning aspect of reciprocal altruism (refer to Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene/Peter Singer, The Expanding Circle)
  2. how our moral norms are historically grounded in social contracts, customs and laws
Book cover: The Expanding Circle by Peter Singer

The objective dimension, on the other hand, encapsulates the impartial nature of morality. This dimension explains these two key aspects:

  1. our appeal to reason and argument based on general principles
  2. the barring of appeals to parochial interests (Think again of John in our scenario saying, 'I just like it that way.')

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