Moral foundations - Objective, Subjective & etc: The forever topic


There is also the culture at large which has to be considered. Individuals don’t create moral codes. Cultures do. One could also consider how drugs can take away a person’s ability to correctly judge morality and their own ability to best determine what causes them harm.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #142

What world are you living in?

(Albert Leo) #143

Did you mean to type “helps” instead of “harms”?

Roger, am I naive in expecting to find Moral Foundations in Scripture? There is no question that the O.T. declares that David was the clear favorite of God. If we are to take some lesson from how the O.T. portrays David, is it that even if we commit murder and adultery, we can still obtain forgiveness from God? If that is so, then Scripture should clearly state it, and not hope that the reader will deduce it. Otherwise there must be many readers of the O.T. who, like me, conclude that some parts of Scripture are nothing but the authors attempting self-justification NOT moral guidance.. This leads me to depend more on my God-given conscience as modified by the society in which I live. Which, I guess, is more subjective than objective.
Al Leo


The world in which you can’t answer simple questions.

What’s the difference between a preference and a need?


100 unique people from different cultures around the world?


Well, but cultures are formed by a group of individuals, so it is not about what each individual conceives as good or bad, but what the culture considers as being good or bad following that logic. In that framework, things like slavery wouldn’t be wrong in cultures which supported it.


Fantastic talk by Jeff Schloss from the Biologos staff about these themes!

(John Dalton) #148

Why, are there really cultures where people go around smacking each other without comment?


There are (and have been) cultures in which it would not be out of place or morally questioned to hit someone without apparent reason–depending on who it is doing the hitting and who it is receiving the hitting, of course.


Are there “better” or “worse” sets of preferences?

(John Dalton) #151

Could you share one with me? It seems like you’re talking about some specific sets of circumstances in specific cultures. I’m not sure that’s relevant.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #152

Forgiveness has been built into the Law, but it must be clearly noted that forgiveness
is not cheap. David has to admit publicly that he was an adulterer and murderer, which he did not want to do. He also has to watch his baby die knowing that he was responsible for this. Finally he had to accept that the Kingdom that he worked so hard to create would be divided with his dynasty received the short end of the stick because of his sin.

Psalm 51:1-19 (NIV2011)
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
18 May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

What David did was flat out wrong, even though I am sure it did not feel wrong at the time. It was also not legally wrong because he was the King and his Will was law. David sis not want to admit his sin to the world. He did not want to give Bathsheba back to Uriah.

I am sure that Nathan did not want to confront the King. I am sure that YHWH did not want to condemn David either, so no one preferred the judgment that took place, but it had to happen for the good of all. Morality is objectively good. It is ultimately subjectively good also.

(Albert Leo) #153

Your response contains a good case for distinguishing between objective and subjective morality, but (IMHO) I don’t think you made it sufficiently clear. See if you agree with my interpretation of the events you cite.

At the time David coveted Uriah’s wife, he did not think it wrong because he was the King and his Will was law. In other words, he could establish the subjective morality for the culture over which he ruled. As David’s life turned to ashes, he began to realize that the objective morality, as stated in Moses’ Ten Commandments, took precedence, and thus 'thou shalt not commit adultery’ and ‘thou shalt not kill’ clearly labelled him as a serious sinner.

If David’s repentance was truly sincere, then God surely would have pardoned him regardless. But it didn’t hurt that God could foresee that David’s eloquence would result in the penitential Psalm 51, and that might help steer future generations from following David’s sinful path.

It still bothers me that so many ‘average’ readers of scripture see David as some sort of paragon rather than a horrible example of a moral code gone astray.
Al Leo


That’s the big question. Each culture has different preferences as a whole, but there are shared preferences (e.g. laws against murder and theft) that are common to all cultures. We also tend to think that each culture/nation has some sort of sovereignty over itself. I would say that we all have opinions on what are good preferences, and in the end it is debate within society that can move good preferences to the forefront.


So the implication is that there are “good preferences” and “bad preferences” and we want the “good preferences” moved to the forefront. By what criteria do we determine whether preferences are “bad” or “good”?


In the OT, slavery didn’t seem to be that wrong. Some have even argued that the OT didn’t speak out against slavery because it was just part of society at that time. What it spoke to was being a moral slave owner. We could also look at the idea of majority opinion and the ability to consent to the rules within society. Even now, the minority opinion within a democracy still has to live by the laws passed by the majority.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #157

Obviously he wasn’t thinking.

No, he could have been above the Law, until he found out that he couldn’t.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #158


People3 make the mistake to confusing modern slavery and ancient slavery and biblical slavery with ancient slavery. Slavery in the OT was limited in time. One could sell oneself into slavery to pay off a debt.

In ancient times slaves were often prisoners of war. It was an alternative to prison or death. This does not make it good, but better than alternatives. Many important officials of the government were slaves. Institutions have evolved to meet the needs of society, but at times they lose their function and need to be replaced.

(John Dalton) #159

You could also beat your slave with a stick as long as they didn’t die within a couple of days. You could treat the foreign and Hebrew slaves differently, with harsher treatment for the former. You could rope a Hebrew slave into permanent slavery by providing a wife slave for him. That’s just off the top of my head. Let’s not try to whitewash this. Even leaving that stuff alone, I would hope that we could come to agreement that owning another person as property is simply always wrong. It was fairly prevalent in human societies and was for a long time after, but we didn’t get the correct moral guidance in this case.

And maybe to bring this back to the larger topic, I can understand the position that there are moral truths to be discovered in the Bible, but FWIW (I’m not saying anyone here holds this position) it doesn’t seem to give us objective information about morality. We need to apply subjective judgement to it in some way.


There was also chattel slavery in ancient times where slaves were owned, traded, and inherited for life.

However, I am not really interested in arguing the merits of slavery during those times. I was more interested in how the Bible approached the reality of slavery in ancient times. The OT seemed to be focused more on the day to day practicalities of culture than some overarching metaphysical moral judgment on the practice of slavery.

[note: I am not interested in the old “the Bible is evil because it allowed slavery” debate. I think there are more interesting avenues of discussion than the more well trodden one.]