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Seth Martin, Roanoke, VA February 23, 2012

Reconsidering Subjectivism

Subjectivism as a system of ethics is the idea that our moral opinions are based on our feelings and nothing more (Rachels p. 33). Subjectivism is often quickly discounted by philosophers in the same way and for the same reasons that moral relativism is dismissed (Relativism.). Nevertheless, subjectivism is the most accurate descriptive system of ethics dealing with human morality and is the only normative system of ethics that cannot be invalidated when it is constrained to the domain of the individual. Furthermore, living within normative Subjectivism enables certain advantages for an individual not possible with other systems of ethics, and when combined with Social Contract Theory, offers a congruous system of ethics for all interaction between living beings. Therefore, Subjectivism is the best system of ethics, despite the apparent incongruence of such a statement when made under normative Subjectivism. Subjectivism is the most accurate system to describe human ethics, both modern and historical. The fact that there are numerous systems of ethics and endless variety in moral beliefs (Ethics.), all of which are not reconcilable, and there is not a universal system of ethics to which most individuals adhere, should be incontrovertible evidence to the subjectivity of all systems of ethics and moral beliefs. Subjectivism is also congruous with the evolution of and understanding of human ethics over time. As further and empirical evidence to the accuracy of descriptive Subjectivism, one can try changing any free and normal - meaning normal intelligence, hormonal balance, etc. individuals mind on most topics and discover it cannot be done. If the individual is emotionally

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Seth Martin, Roanoke, VA February 23, 2012

ready, he may chose to change his own mind when presented with different information, or information is explained so that he is capable of coming to a different understanding. If the individual holds other beliefs that would be invalidated by the new conclusion, he may by way of cognitive dissonance not accept the new conclusion despite all evidence and logic (Festinger p. 5-6), which further underscores the descriptive subjectivity of all moral systems. Normative Subjectivism should not be disregarded quickly by thinking this theory is unsound in that it invalidates itself much in the same way that many suppose the relativistic statement There are no absolutes invalidates itself. The peer-reviewed Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines normative Subjectivism as that species of moral relativism that relativizes moral value to the individual subject (Relativism.). Nevertheless in the same way that the general relativist can believe that there are no absolutes, including that statement about no absolutes itself, the normative subjectivist believes that all systems of ethics are subjective, including normative Subjectivism itself. In critiquing normative Subjectivism, Rachels describes Subjectivism to mean that there are no facts, and no one is right (p. 33), which is an inaccurate characterization because it is incomplete. Borrowing from mathematics, this description of subjectivism viewed from the opposite factor, infinity instead of zero, states that there are facts and everyone is right. Continuing to borrow from mathematics, this statement can, and in this case must, be limited to a specific domain: it must by logic be limited to the domain of the individual. Within each individuals own domain, his own thinking, feeling, reasoning, and concluding is and must be correct. Even if based on errors in logic and invalid information, both of which could be perceived by another, his moral judgement being subjective and limited to himself is and must be

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Seth Martin, Roanoke, VA February 23, 2012

correct within his own domain. Even if an individual reverses position later, he was still right in the previous moment when his thinking, feeling, and conclusions were different. Alan Richardson and John Bowden, in their New Dictionary of Christian Theology, summarize this as our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience (p. 552). In the realm of philosophy, arguments of reason can be made and logic applied, but no definitive proof, no objective proof, can be determined for the source of moral ideas and their correctness, which explains why there is still no universal consensus as to which normative system of ethics is correct. Rachels critiques normative Subjectivism for missing an important possibility: Moral truths are truths of reason; that is, a moral judgement is true if it is backed by better reasons than the alternatives (p. 41). While arguing against it, Rachels underscores the validity of Subjectivism in stating that these are moral judgement(s) and that these judgements are backed by better reasons than the alternatives. Reason is subject to information, cognitive ability, education, and other individualistic factors. All alternatives may not be discovered and so not available for reason at the time judgement is made. Furthermore, individuals who disagree frequently disagree with the fundamental facts on which an argument is made. Critics incorrectly believe that Subjectivism cannot be a good normative system because it cannot account for two individuals with differing beliefs on a moral subject, and that it is a problem in a normative system for the individuals to disagree. This is not a problem with Subjectivism, but is in fact the essence of Subjectivism, and the defining characteristic that makes Subjectivism a superior system of ethics. One individual can think what he wants and another can thing whatever he wants, regardless of whether they agree, and that is acceptable in this system.

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Seth Martin, Roanoke, VA February 23, 2012

One of the largest groups of detractors from normative Subjectivism are proponents of systems of ethics based on religions, such as Divine Command Theory. These individuals disagree that their systems are subjective, asserting that they are objective, based on the will of a higher power such as God. However, the sheer number of these religious systems (List of Religions and Spiritual Traditions.) and endless variety between these individuals systems of belief and morals is evidence that these systems must also be subjective as they cannot all be exclusively right as each typically claims. Even within one religion, for example Christianity, there is a large number of denominations (List of Christian Denominations.) with endless variety amongst their belief systems and amongst what each individual believes is the objective will of God to which they should adhere. With no objective proof possible in any system of ethics, Subjectivism is the only normative system of ethics that cannot be invalidated. No other system, except Cultural Relativism, which recognizes that it is Subjectivism applied to a different domain - that of the society rather than the individual, is capable of recognizing its own absolute subjectivity, and in that regard all others are inferior to Subjectivism. Therefore and considering the accuracy of descriptive Subjectivism, normative Subjectivism is a superior normative system of ethics. Subjectivism is furthermore a superior system of normative ethics because under it no individual is compelled to impose his morals on any other. Such impositions on others are the cause of innumerable harm throughout human history, resulting from operating under other moral systems in which individuals believe that their system of ethics is in some way objective and that they are right while others are wrong, that their system of beliefs is superior to the exclusion of others beliefs. Subjectivism steers individuals widely clear of this endlessly

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recurring problem, remembering the Christian Crusades of the 2nd century, slavery in the United States and South Africa, Islamic jihads, and many other well-known examples, and thinking of smaller lesser-known examples as well. Subjectivism is superior because it enables individuals to live happily and peacefully with themselves. The subjectivist easily accepts that his culture, religion, education, upbringing, and biology, including evolution and/or divine creation, genetics, environment and gender, influence his moral beliefs. The subjectivist may even simultaneously subscribe to other normative systems of ethics without issue. With this acceptance, cognitive dissonance is minimized and he can better consider each of these influences and analyze his own beliefs and moral systems. Subjectivism is superior because it enables individuals to deal more peacefully with others, which could be summarized in the colloquialism Live and let live. This leads subjectivists to easily subscribe to and accept Social Contract Theory. Understanding that the domain of Subjectivism is limited to the individual, it is inadequate as a system of ethics without Social Contract Theory to address interactions between individuals. Subjectivism, and any other system of ethics that is similarly subjective, require a social contract to regulate these interactions between individuals, or with other cultures under Cultural Relativism.

Subjectivism works well as a normative system of ethics when combined with Social Contract Theory. When there is consensus in dealing amongst subjective individuals, the social contract is made. When the consensus breaks down, the contract is broken. When the contract is

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broken, it may or not be enforced, and a new contract may or may not be made to replace it. All of this is acceptable to the subjectivist. Descriptive Subjectivism is the most accurate system of ethics to describe human morality, including all other systems of morality. Normative Subjectivism is a superior system of ethics in that it cannot be invalidated and can be used to inform other systems of ethics. When combined with its natural extension, Social Contract Theory, it offers a congruous system for moral human interaction.

References/Bibliography: Ethics. Internet: Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics on 16 Feb. 2012. Festinger, Leon. 1957. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. List of Religions and Spiritual Traditions. Internet: Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_religions_and_spiritual_traditions on 16 Feb. 2012. List of Christian Denominations. Internet: Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations on 16 Feb. 2012. Rachels, James and Rachels, Stuart. 2012. The Elements of Moral Philosophy, Seventh Edition. New York: The McRaw-Hill Companies. Relativism. Internet: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/relativi/ on 16 Feb. 2012. Richardson, Alan and Bowden, John. 1983. A New Dictionary of Christian Theology. London: SCM Press Limited.

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