If morality is truly objective, how does one measure it? Remember, something objective is something that does not arbitrarily change based upon the perceptions and interpretations of observers; it is something factually true for all of reality. So again, what is the process by which the morality of something is quantified and measured?
I want to start out by clarifying something about objective/subjective so that we’re on the same page. You can have objective facts about a person’s internal experiences. “Vanilla is the best flavor” is subjective. “Thomas thinks vanilla is the best flavor” is objective (if Thomas really does think that.)
With that out of the way, I think that objective morality can be built from desires common to humans and rational approaches to fulfilling desires. Everyone generally desires health and happiness for themselves. Many also desire the health and happiness of their family and friends, and going further some desire the health and happiness of their community.
The rational thing to do if someone has a desire is to act in such a way that that desire is fulfilled, all other things being equal. If I want to eat a hamburger, I could have simple reasoning process like this:
- If I want to eat a hamburger, I ought to acquire a hamburger.
- I want to eat a hamburger.
- Therefore, I ought to acquire a hamburger.
I don’t think many would find a problem with this line of reasoning. It can apply to other things as well, for example:
- If I want to have a clean house, I ought to clean my house or have my house cleaned.
- I want to have a clean house.
- Therefore, I ought to clean my house or have my house cleaned.
Now that I’ve established the general principle, lets see how it applies to the already established desires above:
- If humans want themselves and those around them to be happy and healthy, then they ought to do X, Y and Z.
- Humans want themselves and those around them to be happy and health.
- Therefore, humans ought to do X, Y and Z.
Here, X, Y and Z act as stand ins for behaviors that are most likely to produce the desired result. Things like not starting a culture of lying, not stealing from people, etc. The pro-social behaviors this encourages are what morality is. You can measure moral acts by how well they conform to the value of increasing the happiness and health of yourself and those around you.
This sort of morality can be called objective and universal. It is objective because the “if X, then Y” reasoning above seems to be based in a basic understanding of how a rational actor satisfies their desires. (If you’re hungry, you should eat. If you’re thirsty, you should drink, etc.) It also relies on a specific value that the actor can be said to have, (“Thomas desires X”) in the same way that an objective fact like “Thomas thinks vanilla is the best flavor” does. It is universal because it relies on a value that is common to most, if not all humans. Humanity evolved as a social animal, so our social instincts almost guarantee that premise 2 will be true for a given human. For those humans that premise 2 is not true for, we have laws and social norms in place which allow us to discourage or punish crime in other ways.