For philosophers, living and dead, questions like this have been their life's concern. So maybe I can't say anything new. But maybe they were wordy and abstruse; and my unoriginal insights can be interesting. :)
I read this article today about really bad workplace bullying that ended in suicide. Hazing appears to be pervasive in some lines of work, and these particular bullies are not remorseful. They think they applied to the victim just the same violent routines they applied to everyone as a "prank". This included:
- Forcing him naked in a cage; dousing him in a flammable liquid; and burning his clothes.
- Locking him in the trunk of a car and hosing him down with a pressure cleaner.
Most people may consider these actions blatantly abhorrent. There are some, though, who defend them; saying morality is subjective. Who's to say that what we consider immoral would not be 100% valid in that workplace? Was it not done by everyone, and considered par for the course?
I say, nah. We differ in our moral judgments; but their foundations are shared by all.
See, we can construct morality from first principles.
Step 1: You have a world. The world contains resources.
Step 2: In this world there are at least two conscious beings.
Step 3: The conscious beings have needs and preferences about the use of the world's resources.
Now the question of morality:
(A) Do the beings help each other satisfy their needs and meet their preferences?
(B) Or do they each try to get the most for itself, without considering the wants of others?
The being that selects (A) is acting morally.
The being that selects (B) is not.
When people say morality is subjective, it is true that whether or not a being has morality is subjective. A being might, or might not.
But if a being does have morality, it has the same objective fundamentals. It boils down to empathy, and a willingness to cooperate – even at own expense in the short-term – for the greater benefit of all.
That's all it is. It's not complicated.
Beings may get lost on the way, and get confused with traditions and principles, losing sight that the underlying foundation is empathy. When this happens, beings may do horrendous things in the name of "morality", without actually being moral. Ironic, right?
The bullies above were not moral, because they did not consider the impact of their actions on the victim. That is objective.