Want to keep in the loop on the latest happenings at Chabad Jewish Center of Sudbury . Subscribe to our mailing list below. We'll send you information that is fresh, relevant, and important to you and our local community.
Printed from ChabadSudbury.com

Morality, subjective or objective?

Monday, 17 February, 2020 - 3:47 pm

Morality.jpgMorality through the ages often seems to shift, with ideas and behaviors fluctuating between being considered the norm or being considered immoral. One needn't travel to far back in time to discover social behaviors which were acceptable and commonplace, which are now considered totally unacceptable and immoral. Thousands of years ago, child sacrifice, gladiator fights, and the like, were all a normal part of life in many cultures. Care and compassion on a society level were not the norm in most cultures.

Yet slowly overtime humanity has steadily evolved and become better, more caring, and given greater value and importance to so many areas of improving human behavior.

It might seem that morality is subjective based on the time frame of history or the kind of place and society that it is taking place. Yet from a Jewish perspective, morality is not simply a subjective matter, rather it is an objective reality which we need to strive for and seek to live by. From this perspective, morality is not something which is subjective and dependent on our feelings and impulses in any given time, rather morality represents truisms that have always been true and will always be true.

Often the difference between these approaches may not clash and can work together, but with subjective morality, one runs the risk that morality can become skewed and perhaps even perverted based on human biases, tendencies on a personal or societal level.

It is for this reason, that when the Ten Commandments are given to the Jewish people (which we read about this week), alongside the great ideas of believing in one G-d and honoring the Shabbat, they are also taught seemingly simple and obvious ideas, such as do not kill, do not steal, honor your parents. The commentaries question the need for us being taught such obvious and self understood ideas at such a great and momentous experience, and point out that in doing so, G-d was teaching them something very powerful and critical to the human experience. G-d was in a sense saying that basic human values such as the ones mentioned, should be adhered to because they are part of the Divine purpose of creation and are truisms that are always true at all times of human history.

G-d is highlighting a powerful point and that is that if those values are done purely based on human subjective morality, they might easily become eroded or corrupted over time. Honoring parents could become discarded if people begin to convince themselves that their parents may not be so deserving. Stealing could become justified in a warped manner too with justifications including things like what is the big deal in stealing $20.00 from someone who has a billion dollars or from someone who is not a kind person. Likewise even murdering which seems like such a basic human value, has been justified by many throughout history to murder innocent people. One only needs to look back 70 years at the Nazi phenomenon where humans turned into monsters and JUSTIFIED their murderous acts.

It is for this reason, that G-d teaches the Jews a very powerful lesson at the Mount Sinai experience, and that is, that the morality and values that they are being taught then, are true not simply because they feel right and they make sense to us, but rather they are so true and important, because G-d gave them to man as part of critical values that will shape the world in the right manner. For this reason, they will never cease to be relevant and can be true anchors for what morality should be like on a societal and personal level. 

Comments on: Morality, subjective or objective?
There are no comments.