Note to reader:
The following post is a continuation of a series of posts on this blog entitled "The Distinction Between Morailty and Ethics". Please refer to the previous posts for my overview of other moral disciplines, namely: Socratic Ethics, Relativism, Subjectivism & Humean Subjectivism. For a short introduction to the distinction between morality and ethics, please go here.
Objectivists consider moral beliefs and judgements to be the product of our critical responsiveness to, and rational reflection on, our experience of what is worth our attention, care and respect. Our venture in practical reasoning when deciding what is worth desiring or having or doing or being.
For Objectivists morals are beliefs and judgements for which we can give reasons and about which we can argue and be mistaken. As long as an individual or communal judgement or belief implies the question, 'This is so isn't it?', it involves a distinction between how things really are and how we might (subjectively) like them to be and so invites agreement or disagreement- it is an objective belief or judgement.
For instance, many Australians now look upon their past treatment of the Indigenous people of that country as shameful. They do so because they have come to recognize that Aborignes are not a barbarous people who are barely human, but a people with rich cultural life who are as fully human as any other people. This recognition, says the objectivist, is a matter of a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Aboriginal way of life that includes emotional responses, such as being moved by the Aborignal sense of the land as sacred. It is not just a matter of blind feeling like loving the taste of peanut butter. Nor is this a matter of a change of social convention that can be explained in sociological terms. Those Australians who now see this past treatment of Aborignal people as shameful are implicitly asking: 'this is how things are, isn't it? Our response to Aborignes in the past was contemptuous, wasn't it?' Such questions invite our critical reflection on which response is appropriate to such aspects of our history. As a Pakistani, one might be faced with the same revised reflection upon matters such as Gendercide in Bangladesh (previously East Pakistan) or, the treatment of minorities in the country. An objectivist Pakistani may very well wonder what a more serious response to the predominant shallow and bigoted one is. This critical reflection may very well lead to the question: what is the moral truth of the matter here?
However, one can always use the idea of truth as an objectivist in a more restricted sense that is consistent with relativism - some traditional hindus, for example, might say that ' true honour' requires that a woman who is unfaithful to her husband be killed by the husbands relatives. (But we might still reject the claim that this is 'true honour', just as the west came to reject the view that the practice of duelling in Western Society was truly honourable.)
So Objectivists hold that they can be mistaken in their moral beliefs just as humans were once wrong in their belief that the earth is flat. Traditional Hindus who practice honour killings and Suttee are mistaken in their moral judgements. And what we believe now to be morally correct might turn out to be wrong after further reflection. Humans at large once believed slavery was morally justified, but now we accept that we were wrong in our view.
Hence for Objectivists, there can be moral knowledge and moral facts just as there can be scientific knowledge and scientific facts; and our moral understanding can develop (not simply change) just as our scientific understanding can. So our moral understanding of the evils of racism has developed over the course of the last few centuries - we have come to a deeper appreciation of the humanity of different races and women as well as a deeper appreciation of how they can be wronged.
...My next post will cover objections to Objectivism.