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Is Morality a Matter of Taste?

1. Introduction

Citation Information

Allan, Leslie 2017. Is Morality a Matter of Taste?, URL = <http://www.rationalrealm.com/philosophy/ethics/is-morality-matter-taste.html>.

This text is an edited transcript of Leslie Allan's address to the Humanist Society of Victoria on Thursday 23rd February, 2017 at Hawthorn Community Precinct, Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia.

Presenter: Leslie Allan

Photo of Leslie Allan addressing Humanist Society of Victoria on the nature of morality

For those who don't know my history, let me say a little about my background. I became interested in religion and science from an early age. My first interest was astronomy and then progressed to chemistry. My next inertest in electronics became my first career. In my early years and having a scientific outlook, I was always intrigued by those around me who expressed a religious view of life and the universe. At the age of 12, my fascination led me to undergo the weeks of preparation required to receive Confirmation in the local Catholic Church. I did that completely under my own steam. A few years later, I continued attending the local Protestant Church even after my parents, who were only nominally religious at best, ceased attending.

At the Institute where I was studying, I would often get into debates on religious matters with a colleague of mine. I remember him always ending the conversation with the advice that I should read so-and-so. My interest in philosophy was so piqued that I studied philosophy and history formally at La Trobe University throughout the 1980s. Although I did spend some time studying the history and philosophy of religion in particular, my main interests were in two key fields. The first was Ethics, both meta-ethics and normative ethics. The second area of study was epistemology, especially the sub-discipline of the history and philosophy of science.

Now that my business responsibilities have diminished substantially, I am able to devote time to my primary loves; science and philosophy. Much of my time is now absorbed in contributing to my local secular humanist chapter, the Humanist Society of Victoria, and to publishing essays to my Rational Realm web site.

This talk is based on one of those essays that I wrote one year ago. And that essay is the result of a long dialogue with a Professor of Astrophysics in America named Coel Hellier. Coel is absolutely adamant that there is nothing fundamentally objective about moral reasoning and wrote a piece to prove it. His view that ethics all comes down to personal preferences and nothing else is a view shared by many who adopt a scientific outlook. [You can find the references to Coel's original essay, Six Reasons Why Objective Morality Is Nonsense, my essay, Is Morality Subjective? and my response to objections, Is Morality Subjective? – A Reply to Critics, at the end of this essay. I also include here some suggested reading.]

The purpose of my talk tonight is to present to you three key ideas. These are:

  1. Secular humanists who label themselves as 'subjectivists' put themselves at a significant social and political disadvantage.
  2. Ethics is neither exclusively 'objective' nor 'subjective'. It has both an important subjective and objective dimension.
  3. Recognizing this objective dimension has a long and distinguished tradition in moral philosophy among scientific naturalists and secular humanists.

Copyright © 2017

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