If Morality Is Objective, How Can We Know It?

Brett explains how we can know the difference between subjective truth and objective truth.


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If morality is objective, how can we know it? Are our moral intuitions subjective, kind of like our feelings? Well, in answering this question, we have to understand the idea of a moral intuition. What is an intuition? An intuition is simply a reflective way of seeing something. Think about the Declaration of Independence. It says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” That's the idea with moral intuition. Moral intuition helps you to recognize self-evident moral truths.

Here's the comparison: Think about our sense perception. Your sense perception gives you the ability to see a dog that walks in front of you. You see the dog, and you recognize the objective truth, “there's a dog walking in front of me.” You simply see it. In the same way, our moral intuitions are like our sense perception. Our moral intuitions help us to see the truth of basic moral facts. 

Our intuitions need to be distinguished from our feelings. Intuition is not the same thing as feeling. Intuition is our moral perception of things. This gives us the ability to recognize certain moral truth. Some of these moral truths are simply self-evident. So, we know that raping women is a moral wrong, and that’s self-evident. We know that torturing children for pleasure is a moral wrong, and that’s self-evident. Our intuitions help us to see those kinds of things.

No, our intuitions aren’t merely subjective. They are the way that we know moral truths. Not only do we have moral intuitions, we also have rational intuitions. I think the analogy – sense perception with moral perception – helps you to see how these things can be self-evident. When I see a dog walking in front of me, I don't simply say, “Well that must be my subjective feeling about a dog in front of me.” No. I see the thing, and I say, “There's a dog,” and I am able to access the objective reality through my sense perception. In the same way, we look into the world, we see moral action, and we can come to know the truth of those things through our moral intuitions.

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Brett Kunkle