What Is Objective Morality And What Can It Teach Us?

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Our morals can guide our lives and determine what we believe is right and wrong. However, if you're unsure of your morals, you're not alone. Try to explore your personal beliefs and how they reflect in your actions. A therapist can be a helpful resource if you're looking for guidance with your morality.

Morality is a unique feature of humanity, and philosophers have long argued about its nature. Humans often carry beliefs and principles we try to uphold, which may tell others who we are or what we value. Morals may vary from person to person, but most humans have some shared moral values, such as not murdering, assaulting, or harming others.

There may be many reasons why we follow our morals, from a belief in a religion to societal rules, like treating others the way we want to be treated. Differences in moral systems exist, such as master morality and slavery morality. Among these, objective morality is a subject of debate, with proponents of moral objectivism claiming that objective moral values exist, while others challenge this notion of objectivity.

Therapy can help you grasp the topic of morality

What is morality?

There may be various philosophical interpretations of morality. However, morality is often a belief about what is objectively wrong and right regarding our behavior, beliefs, and words. Morality may come from our beliefs in religion, culture, philosophy, politics, education, laws, or other areas of life.

Morality may sometimes feel "black and white," meaning you believe a behavior or custom is entirely negative or positive. Religious or cultural morality may focus on this type of thinking. Other times, morality may be grayer, as the circumstance can matter in deciding the right course of action. For instance, lying isn't often considered a moral action. However, there could be instances where lying would cause the least harm and may feel just. This illustrates the complex nature of morality in our world, as people may need to decide based on the specific context. 

What is objective morality?

Objective morality is the belief that morality is universal and not up for interpretation, suggesting that objective morality exists independently of individual perspectives. Some individuals may think of objective morality when they study commandments in their religion, while others may believe the universe has objective rules to follow, such as universal kindness.

There are specific arguments against the existence of objective morality, as well. For example, not everyone will follow the same rules according to their religion, culture, or upbringing. What is "extremely bad" to one person may be okay to another. However, proponents of the idea that morality is objective maintain that morality exists in nature and is ingrained in humans, making sense regardless of cultural or personal differences. 

What is subjective morality?

The opposite of objective morality is subjective morality. Subjective morality says morals are human-made and can vary from person to person. While there are strong morals in many humans, such as rules against harming others, many morals are subjective, such as making eye contact to show trustworthiness. 

Arguments for objective morality

There are a few arguments that favor objective morality, including the following. 

A religious argument

Many religions have rules to follow, such as commandments in Judaism or Christianity. Additionally, those who follow a religion may believe that only those who practice the moral behaviors outlined in their religious texts act morally, linking morality with happiness.

For example, a religious document might propose that individuals must dress a certain way due to gender. Although this can be a personal and intimate choice, some religious leaders or communities may disregard those who do not partake or state that they are not moral. This subject of morality and its connection to religion is complex, and while science may help us understand some aspects, it cannot prove or disprove the moral perspectives rooted in religious beliefs. 


Action and consequence

Some individuals believe that there are universal laws that make morals objective. For example, the case of murder could be considered a universal law. They may state that all cases of murder are immoral. Murder may have dire consequences for all individuals involved, and justice systems often hold up these moral rules. Proponents of objective morality may believe this to be the case for all morals. 

Who decides what constitutes morality?

If someone has a moral code that says certain behaviors are justified, who says they are wrong? Often, humanity relies on a government, leading institution, or society as a whole to set moral rules. Some rules may have been around for centuries. 

Arguments against objective morality

There are several arguments against objective morality, including the following. 

Our morality may continuously evolve

What we consider moral and immoral may change with time and depend on where we live. Different countries and faiths may have different morals. Some similarities exist, such as viewing hatred or stealing as harmful.

However, these morals often stem from empathy, a common human trait. 

Many beliefs have changed over time. For example, it was once believed that interracial marriage was immoral. However, it is now more widely accepted in many cultures. Morals might also change quickly. Research shows that in 2016, 55% of people supported gay marriage, while in 2019, 61% supported it.

Laws may also change depending on morality. For a while, marijuana use was illegal in the US. As of November 2022, 21 states have legalized the non-medical use of the substance. Because morality could change depending on public law or belief, morality may be subjective. 

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Objective morality only covers human beliefs

Humans are one species on the planet. While many people may believe we are the only intelligent species, others may believe that animals are also intelligent beings. Others may believe there are aliens or other intelligent life in the universe. What humans believe to be true may not be accurate for another civilization in space. 

A recent study shows that non-human animals also have morality. For example, monkeys may raise the young of other monkeys if the parent of a baby has died. Additionally, swans and other birds may mate for life, never betraying their partner. These are examples of morals that humans may have in common with animals. However, infidelity does occur in human relationships. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Therapy can help you grasp the topic of morality

What is "moral" can bend

Society may label "forgiveness" a 100% positive moral behavior. However, in cases where someone has deeply wronged us, we may not forgive them or wish to do so. Morality can bend in this case, and forgiveness might not be the right step for everyone. 

Additionally, stealing may be seen as a morally corrupt action. However, there are often situations where stealing could be viewed as less severe than others. For instance, one person may view stealing from a store as corrupt. However, another individual may believe that stealing from an individual is worse than stealing from a corporation with large amounts of money. This subjectivity is often a personal opinion. 

Religious morality can be subjective

Not everyone who practices religion or believes in a higher power believes in the same moral principles and code. For example, morality can differ from Christianity to Islam. Additionally, some individuals do not believe in religion at all and do not choose to follow a moral code from a religious text or organization. 

There can be multiple interpretations of a religious text, as well. One sect of religion may believe different things than another. For example, there are different branches of Christianity and Judaism. 

What can you learn from objective morality?

The concept of objective morality may bring up a lot of questions. Is it limited to only the religious? Are there certain morals that are subjective? As you study objective and subjective morality, you may consider multiple possibilities.  

The idea of objective or subjective morality may not allow all possibilities. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle, where some morals don't change, and some do.

Being human and learning about culture, philosophy, ethics, and psychology can be fascinating. What you find moral and immoral may differ from someone else, and connecting with others may depend on how moral you believe they are. However, at the end of the day, we are all human.   

Navigating morality with a therapist

At times, questions of morality may feel overwhelming or confusing. Perhaps you're unsure of your morals or want to learn more about what it means to you to be a positive person. If you want to utilize an easy-to-use therapeutic model, you might consider meeting with an online therapist after your morality studies. 

Recent research has shown that internet-based therapy is effective in treating anxiety and other mental health issues stemming from struggles over morality. Additionally, online therapy can be done from any location with an internet connection, including on the go.  

Another study evaluated the effects of computer-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) on those experiencing symptoms of anxiety disorders. CBT is a widely accepted method of managing anxiety, involving therapist-guided assignments, lessons, and relevant resources. In the study, researchers cited significant improvement in participants who received CBT through online platforms, which was maintained at a follow-up 26 weeks later.

Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp can offer valuable resources for those dealing with morality concerns. If you have a moral code you want to uphold, talking to a therapist can help keep your actions in check. 


If you have a moral code that you want to uphold, or you're struggling to answer your questions about morality, talking to a licensed therapist may benefit you. A therapist can help you learn to create meaning in your life to align your morals with your behaviors.
Explore the topic of morality
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