What is an Objective Moral Standard?

Because of some confusion in an earlier debate about what exactly an objective moral standard is or would be, I decided to post the most brief and simple explanation that I could. The criteria for a moral standard/rule/law's being objective is very simple: it must always apply, and it must apply to all moral agents. Nothing more.

This means that an objective moral standard need not demand the same actions of all people in the same circumstances - that is, the 'results' you get when applying it to a particular person and situation would not have to be the same that another person in that same general situation would get. The rule itself is what must remain the same if it is to be objective.

This makes sense - there is no logistic reason why "Always act out of love" could not be an objective moral standard, though the 'results' that would occur when people acted according to it would surely be different. The objectivity of a standard does not mean that individuals have no choice or personal preference in how they act upon it, as long as their actions do not violate that standard.

It is also not the case that an objective moral standard must 'cover' all situations. It must always apply, but that does not mean that for any given situation it will demand a specific action. There can be something like moral grey areas: realms of action that are basically morally neutral, neither good nor bad, that the moral standard does not prohibit. Something like "Never kill people" could be an objective moral standard - it would have to apply all the time and to all people. As long as you were not acting in a way that would kill someone, this moral standard wouldn't tell you what to do; it would only serve to limit your range of actions. But it would still apply to all situations all the time, because there would never be a time when you could choose to kill someone without violating it.

Further, it is not the case that there be only one objective moral standard. If such standards are possible and do exist, there is no reason why there could not be more than one. There might be a list, something like "Never kill," "Never steal," etc. and so on. As long as there was no contradiction between the standards, they could all fulfull the criteria of being an objective moral standard: applying all the time and to all moral agents.

A moral standard's being objective does not require anything special except for the fulfillment of the two previously mentioned criteria. How does a standard gain the label of 'objective'? Generally, it is by stipulation. Whoever comes up with the standard simply claims that he or she believes that the standard applies all the time and to all people, rather than them believing that the standard is somehow relative.

Now, saying that a moral standard is objective does not necessarily mean you agree with it, or even that you think there really are objective moral standards (or moral standards at all). To claim that a standard is objective is simply a statement about how that standard is meant to apply, assuming it is the correct standard. People generally recognize that there are many different 'moral codes' out there, some of them very different from the others. But in recognizing another person's beliefs as a 'moral code', a person does not imply that they agree with those beliefs, or that they think the moral rules and standards within that code are correct. The description is based on the form of the beliefs (standards/rules that demand or prohibit actions) and the intention behind them (that they actually apply, as moral rules).

Likewise, to describe something as an 'objective moral standard', you are recognizing its form and intention - that it is something that fits the bill for what a moral rule would be, and that it is intended to (and can) apply at all times to all moral agents. Something like Kant's Categorical Imperative ("Act always so that you can will the maxim by which you act to be universal law") is an objective moral standard simply because that is the correct description for it, because it was intended to apply all the time to all people and that is how it functions in Kant's moral system.

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