I have been asked on a number of occasions to speak to my claim that morality is objective. This seems to go contrary to the idea that there must be empirical evidence for things to be considered true, but, of course, I believe that facts supported by empirical evidence are not the only things that should be included amongst the things that we know, morality especially amongst them. I could go on a long round about journey to try to show this. I might begin by speaking about Hume, and eventually come to claims like those made by Philip Kitcher in his rather wonderfully complex yet convincing monograph, The Ethical Project, to show that there are, in fact, reasons for holding that our values are objective, and, while they do not have the hard fact nature of scientific discoveries, are none the worse, as things that we can know objectively, for that. However, I came across last night a talk by AC Grayling which says much that I might have said, and says it so much more elegantly, that it seemed to me of value to include an excerpt from that talk here. When I speak about the objectivity of morality, I mean, more or less, what Grayling says so effectively in this clip from his talk “Setting Prometheus Free,” kindly provided by Atheist Ireland. (The entire lecture is available here.)
We can go on to discuss the ramifications of what Grayling has to say, but I think the main point that can be made here is that there simply are perfectly reasonable responses to situations, such as the case of the person in danger of being harmed, which indicates that, in fact, we do take morality seriously as an objective aspect of our relationships. To say, of someone who is in imminent danger of being harmed, “Well, this should be interesting,” instead of warning the person of danger, is clearly something we quite naturally and reasonably find repugnant. Our morality is based on such considerations, and, while there is still room for disagreement — which is why autonomy is so important — there are points of confluence where agreement is all but universal. Morality is certainly relative to human need and desire, as Hume saw so clearly, but it is also, as social contract theories make clear, determined by widespread social agreement as to the conditions necessary for human flourishing. Morality, of course, as this suggests, evolves, but it is no less objective on this account.