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Subjectivism as an Ethical Theory

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SUBJECTIVISM While ethical relativism comes in many shapes, its most individualistic expression is ethical subjectivism. It argues that the criteria for what is considered morally right or wrong is 'the individual's perceptions, opinions, experiences, inclinations, and desires.' Ethical subjectivism denies the existence of universal moral codes. It views ethics as being private, individual, and subjective in nature. The subjectivist treats morality like taste or aesthetic judgements and would typically say 'morality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder' but its most descriptive statement might be 'whatever a person thinks is right is right' Ernest Hemmingway wrote 'so far, about morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after and judged by these moral standards, which I do not defend, the bullfight is very moral to me because I feel very fine while it is going on ...read more.


Suppose John torturing a child repulses you. You cannot say that it wrong for John to torture people according to subjectivism, because John personally likes it. The only basis for judging him wrong is if he was a hypocrite who told others it was wrong to torture people. However, suppose it was his principle that hypocrisy is morally permissible (he feels very fine about it), so that it would be impossible for him to do wrong. Subjectivism may even argue that Adolph Hitler and Ted Bundy (serial killer) are as moral as Gandhi, if each lived to his own moral standards, whatever those might be. Ted Bundy once justified his murder when talking to one of his victims, just before he raped and murdered her. '...In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure ...read more.


Subjectivity implicitly assumes something of this solipsism, an atomism in which isolated individuals make up separate universes. Subjectivism treats people as billiard balls on a societal pool table where they meet only in radical collisions, each aimed at his or her own goal and striving to do the others before they do him or her in. However, this is belied by the fact humans create societies and families where they support each other and help one another; where we share a common language, common institutions and similar rituals and habits. As John Donne once wrote 'No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent' Subjectivism has some strength in that firstly, it reflects the close relationship between morality and people's feelings and opinions. Indeed, it can cope with the contradictory moral values we find ourselves fighting with. ...read more.

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