Is there objective truth in ethics?

Is there “objective truth” in ethics?
Gabriel Tordjman
Humanities 345-BXH:Issues in Bioethics
Winter 2013
As a noun “objective” means “goal” or “aim” but
this is not what we mean here. We want the
adjective meaning of objective, which is:
“... something that can be known...;
existing independent of thought or an
observer as part of reality”.
“Objective” means something that can be
known and that exists whether people know it or
believe it or not.
Objective truth means something that is true
regardless of anyone’s or any culture’s opinion.
2 +2 + 4
Is this mathematical statement true?
If someone believes it’s not true, is it still
true? What if an entire culture believes it’s
not true, is it still true?
Is it objectively true? (True regardless of the
opinion or beliefs of anyone or any culture?)
“Questions About Adi Da and Adidam,”
•This is the geocentric
model of the universe.
•It placed the earth at the
centre of the universe.
•People believed in this
model for thousands of
•Were they right?
•Were they right even
back then?
“Cosmology and the Origin of Life,”
The SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)
organization is looking for evidence of intelligent
life in the universe.
(We are looking for the same thing at Dawson College)
SETI Institute, “The History of SETI,
What if they make contact?
How will they talk to them?
Is there any language they could use that these
aliens must know if they are intelligent
If there is, then that language must be
“objective”; something that is known and true
and independent of the culture one comes
2 +2 + 4
That language would be the language of
Mathematics is true, regardless of the culture
or opinion or beliefs of anyone.
Mathematics is objectively true.
In the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a
massive space ship from another planet lands
on Earth.
The aliens had sent a message using the
language of music and mathematics
And the humans understood it and sent back a
musical/mathematical response.
Musical scene:
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”,
The assumption of the movie and SETI is that we
can communicate with aliens through mathematics
because mathematics is objectively true.
What a
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”,
Not just mathematics but
the laws of nature are also
“objectively true”. This
includes the law of gravity,
laws of motion, and many
others that scientists have
We can make a good case for objective truth in
mathematics and science but the BIG question is:
Are there objective truths in ethics?
At first sight, the answer is no because:
The laws of nature can be proved with facts
that we can see, measure, weigh, test and
duplicate. That is not the case with what is
right and wrong (ethics).
As a matter of fact individuals and cultures
differ on what they consider right and wrong.
Therefore, there is no “objective truth” in
ethics, only subjective truth.
A “subject” is an individual or a group.
Subjective truth means something that is true
from the point of view of the subject.
Subjective truth depends on the viewpoint of
the subject, while objective truth is
independent of the viewpoint of the subject.
I like cats
I like ducks
Some things are clearly subjective truths:
I like coffee and you like tea.
These are true but there is no “right answer”
for everyone (objectively)
This is a matter of subjective preference.
So, are ethical truths merely subjective, true
only from the viewpoint of the individual, or
true only as matter of personal preference or
If so, there are no objective ethical truths.
BUT: Maybe a case can still be made for
objective truth in ethics.
First, it isn’t really true that only natural laws
and scientific theories can be supported with
facts and logic.
Ethical theories can also be supported with
facts and logic.
However, ethics cannot claim the same degree of
certainty as science.
Next, it isn’t true that cultures differ on all
ethical questions.
For example, there is no culture that
encourages people to kill other members of
their culture.
Humans are much alike in their physical
bodies and in their basic needs.
Thus, they will come up with many ideas and
values that serve to meet these needs.
In this way, many (but not all) values and
ethics in all cultures will be the same.
Moreover, some claim humans have an innate
moral sense ( we are born with a capacity to
develop morality)
Just like everyone has biological features in
common (eyes, limbs, head) we may also have
common moral features, like the moral sense.
If so, this would also tend to support the view
that there is a common or objective ethics.
Maybe this is
part of what
Kant meant
when he said:
"Two things fill the
mind with ever new
and increasing
admiration and awe...
the starry sky above
me and the moral law
within me."
Finally, we should also consider this:
Many people don’t like the idea of an objective
truth in ethics because it sounds intolerant.
What is their case?
What are the drawbacks to their viewpoint?
Do you agree/disagree with them? Why?
What do you
think of the
idea that there
is an objective
truth in ethics?

similar documents