What is the difference between moral relativism and moral subjectivism?

Morality map

Continuing on from my comments on relativity theology, I have a few words to say on relativism and subjectivism in Christian morality, hopefully with a bit more nuance. 

Firstly, I have come to see I should more carefully distinguish between moral absolutism vs moral relativism on the one hand and moral objectivism vs moral subjectivism on the other. I have illustrated this in the graph to the left.

My relativism is somewhat relative

So, in saying I'm a relatively into relativism I'm saying I move around on the relativist-absolutist spectrum. I would affirm that what counts as moral "often" depends on the circumstances but not "always". Following the letter of the law to the detriment of the spirit of the law is not what God requires of us. Laws are a blunt instrument. We need to be more sophisticated than that, lest we descend into Phariseeism.

Nevertheless there are some things I would be absolutist about, such as rape, for which I believe there is no justification under any circumstance. I deny, therefore, that relativism applies absolutely under every circumstance.

My subjectivism is somewhat subjective

That being said, I would also say I move around a bit on the subjectivist-objectivist spectrum and this is where my critical realism comes in. Although I believe a difference between right and wrong exists, independent of my experience of it, I have to admit my experience of morality has an unavoidably subjective dimension to it. My mind is as fallen as my heart. The best I can do is acknowledge my limitations and seek to maximise my objectivity even if I never perfectly achieve it. So when it comes to my interpretation of biblical morality, I seek to be faithful but have to humbly acknowledge that I am quite possibly wrong in places and have room to grow. I have to acknowledge that some people may have a clearer understanding than my own and be wary of judging their moral decisions even if they differ from the decisions I would make. 

So to sum up, while I think there is a time and a place for commenting on what others are doing in other situations, I think God is most faithfully served if I focus first and foremost on what I am called to do in my situation.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s