Morality: Subjective, Objective

Very often, the debate over morality is bogged down by the issue over the subjectivity or objectivity of morality. Usually, the theists are the ones advocating that morality is objective (and has been made known to them by their gods) while some atheists would deny that.

So, note the (relevant) definitions for objective and subjective.

objective — adj
1.    existing independently of perception or an individual's
       conceptions: are there objective moral values?
2.    undistorted by emotion or personal bias
3.    of or relating to actual and external phenomena as
       opposed to thoughts, feelings, etc
4.    of, or relating to a goal or aim

subjective — adj
1.    belonging to, proceeding from, or relating to the mind of
       the thinking subject and not the nature of the object being
2.    of, relating to, or emanating from a person's emotions,
       prejudices, etc: subjective views
3.    relating to the inherent nature of a person or thing
4.    existing only as perceived and not as a thing in itself

Note the different ways the words subjective and objective can be used. The two different ways is with respect to in/dependence of mind(s) and distortion or lack of it by prejudices/biases/emotions.

Now this means that referring to morality with those terms, objective and subjective, without adequate clarity will indicate 4 different positions. If you said morality is objective, you might mean that morality exist independent of minds or that morality is not biased by subjects. If you said morality is subjective, you might mean that morality is dependent on minds or that morality is based on subjective biases.

The Usual Confusion
As such, without providing proper context, telling me that you believe morality to be objective or subjective is potentially misleading. You MUST indicate what definition of objective and subjective you are using.

Objective (1) -- independent of minds
Objective (2) -- unbiased by subjects

Subjective (1) -- dependent on minds
Subjective (2) -- based on subjective biases

With that clarified, I want to state that atheists (not all, but there is a significant proportion at least) are proposing that morality is subjective (1) but its morals can be derived objectively (2). This would be what Sam Harris is proposing that science can study morality, concerning the well-being of conscious beings which is subjective (1), objectively (2).

Morality and Morals
The purpose of morality, simply put, is to guide human behavior and (social) interactions. I will state that I reject ALL claims of objective (1) morality. Any moral system that ignores the state of the conscious beings involved -- which is what it must entail in order to be objective (1) -- is not a moral system at all.

The purpose of morality is subjective (1) in the sense that morality only matters if there are subjects. It is not subjective (2) as long as we properly define what morality is and thus be able to objectively (2) investigate what is moral and immoral.

I agree with Sam Harris' view of morality where the purpose of morality is to guide human behavior and social interactions in the direction of well-being. Note the well-being is somewhat vague, like the concept of health, which I think is actually a strong point.

Take a look at the branches of normative ethics, at this Wikipedia page, particularly Consequentialist theories, and notice that they emphasize on one particular value to judge whether an action is or is not moral. The idea of well-being cuts through all that nonsense and represents all the values that we hold.

Theistic, Objective Morality
The main issue with theistic, objective morality is that there is no such thing -- it's almost a contradiction in terms.

If morality is based on their god, then it would be subjective (1) -- dependent on god's mind -- not objective (1) which they claim. The Euthyphro dilemma applies either way. Also, this makes morality arbitrary and quite meaningless -- it's obedience not morals.

If morality is not based on their god but simply because god has access to morality via its omniscience, then morality is not dependent on god. It would be possible for us to investigate morality objectively (2) whether or not it is objective (1) or subjective (1). But it also means that the theistic aspect is irrelevant.

Additionally, even if we ignore the previous two points and simply agree, for the sake of argument, that morality is somehow objective (1), it doesn't solve anything. Theistic morality is practically subjective (2) -- interpreting means that there are so many versions of so many religions, each offering a different (slightly or not) moral code. The theistic case for objective (1) morality and morals is just nonsense to begin with and still nonsense at the end.

What's more egregious in the case of Christianity and Islam (correct me if there are sects who disagree) is that morals DON'T matter because belief in god is the sole (or at least, critical) criteria to enter heaven. All the talk about homosexuals, abortion, rape and murder is irrelevant because if you don't believe, living a moral life will do dick for you, you will still fry in hell anyways.

In this respect, traditional chinese religious beliefs trump Christianity and Islam because its hell punishes people for immoralities as opposed to disbelief.