Ask a Humanist: Is there objective truth or morality?

Yes – I believe there is such a thing as an objective truth. No – I don’t believe in the existence of an objective morality.

Things are true if they accord with fact and/or reality. Meaning, things are objectively true if they can be proven to be true using the tools of science.

Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.”  Amen for that. So yes, as a Humanist I recognize that there are objective truths that can be known and it is helpful for us to know what is true.

The reason it is helpful for us to know what is true and what isn’t is because – what is true impacts our moral judgements.

The 2nd part of this question is – is there an objective morality. To me, as a Humanist, the answer is no. Ultimately – in the grand scheme of things and on the scale of the universe – NONE of our actions really matter. We are all going to end up dead and eventually have our atoms destroyed and reborn in a stellar explosion. 

As Rick in Casablanca points out, “I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that.”

Some people view this – rejection of objective morality as license to do anything you want. It isn’t. It’s just an acknowledgement of the absurd reality we find ourselves in. On the one hand – morality matters greatly to us in the here and now because of the impact our actions have on us in the here and now. And … they don’t matter at all in the grand scheme of things.

Blaise Pascal once wrote, “A man does not show his greatness by being at one extremity, but rather by touching both at once.”  This is especially true of morality.

We can both understand that our actions don’t ultimately matter and understand that they matter greatly right now.  Understanding that both are true is to be enlightened. It helps you to think and act morally while not being uptight about morality.

Why, given the ultimately futility of all moral activity, does it matter to be moral. The answer is because it impacts your life and the life of others right now.  All lives end at some point. The challenge is – how to live life well and fully. The answer, according to every major religion and philosopher is to live a life of compassion geared towards helping others. Why? Why not.  You are only alive for a short people of time. Why not act in a way that makes your life better and the lives of others better? It sure beats the alternative.

To learn more – get my book – The Humanist Approach to Happiness – or take my life skills course – Living Made Simpler. 

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