Fluid Morality

Louis_Cypher's picture

I've been having the usual running discussion over the issue of Objective versus Subjective morality with a young lad on another venue.
Oh, to be young and convinced that mine was the one true way to view the world, and if I just repeat myself often enough, everyone will SEE that I'm right...

Here's how I see it.
Morality is a set of cultural definitions, most if not all of which can be and are changed as the culture itself changes.
Our current set of values, which seem so true and right to us are merely the most recent iteration...

I brought up the subject of racism, noting that in my youth, it was a deeply ingrained moral value that blacks and whites should not marry, so deeply a part of the common psyche, that there were laws written to prevent it...
The lad tried to argue that it was all an aberration, not a moral thing at all... I pointed out that he was viewing it all in a subjective moral hindsight, a sort of ad hoc moral objectivism. After all, he reasons, if it's wrong now, it was always actually wrong. The majority of the folk I grew up with would beg to differ...

I remember those times, I was a child of them and those values were hard to shake.

Slavery is wrong. I believe that to the core of my being.
I can't however arrogantly assume that those who practiced it in the past did so in a moral vacuum. They HAD to see what they did as moral and right. My objections may be reasoned, may FEEL right and proper but I can't claim they are objectively superior. Slavery was practiced in all places and all times right up to and including the present day. Unless I am willing to assert that all of my ancestors operated in a state of moral ambiguity, I have to assume that morality is mutable, changeable and ultimately subjective.

LC >;-}>

 

Christianity: A disgusting middle eastern blood cult, based in human sacrifice, with sacraments of cannibalism and vampirism, whose highest icon is of a near naked man hanging in torment from a device of torture.

To claim that there is an

To claim that there is an objective moral frame of reference, is not only severely shortsighted, it also fails to identify what that frame of reference is.  Ultimately, if you follow that well traveled path you must arrive at God.  If you attempt to define it in a purely relativistic paradigm, you will fail miserably.  

I've actually had this discussion with my younger brother a few years back.  He's also an atheist, and he intuitively assumed an objective morality mirroring humanism and of course, ran through his subjective cherry picking perception.  I simply asked him to define it, and as he attempted he slowly came to realize where it would lead.  In his case it was mostly due to lack of thought put into the issue.  His intellectual honesty led him to admit he was wrong and we still crack incredibly geeky jokes about it to this day (people think we're weird).  

 

 

"Don't seek these laws to understand. Only the mad can comprehend..." -- George Cosbuc

harleysportster's picture

I am rather

I am rather glad that this subject was brought up.

Only recently, did I begin to explore the work of Sam Harris. Just started reading "The Moral Landscape".

Out of all the Four Horsemen, I must confess that he is the one  I have yet to touch.

I am not sure whether I agree or disagree with his ideas about an objective morality and whether there is clearly a defined sense of right and wrong that science can approach.

I tend to believe that morality is a subjective term.

However, he does pose some interesting arguments (I am only a few chapters in, so I do not know what direction this work is leading) that have left me thinking deeply.

I do agree with some of his ideas, but I am not sure, as of yet, where he is going with this.

Is morality a subject that should be studied by science, like any other thing ? I would think so, but I would think that should fall under the category of studying mere human behavior.

In one of the opening chapters, he gives two really diametrically opposing scenarios and asks which one that we think would be best. Then he seems to point to the fact that it would be next to impossible to say that one is indistinguishable from the other.

What does anyone else on here, that has read this book think ? What opinions did you have of it ?

“It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.”
― Giordano Bruno

Louis_Cypher's picture

First, do no harm.

I think that we possess a group survival instinct and that altruism and empathy are hard wired into us. Individually, the human animal is weak, and unlikely to survive. We are pack animals and need group cohesion. We are also prone to making weird and irrelevant abstractions out of mundane actions and processes.

There is one 'prime directive', to not allow the willy nilly killing of other pack members. This is a hard, pragmatic,  sensible and utterly rational rule. It's not hard to see how this became in the abstract a 'moral' injunction.

Most other moral injunctions, all from the 'Thou shalt not' list, tend to actually derive from this. If someone steals, violence ensues, ditto if I try and take your mate.

Then there are the ideas that spring from that empathic instinct, still revolving around the need to keep the pack safe. Care for the young (no young, no pack), care for the infirm (I may be there someday, I help them now in the hope and expectation I will be cared for).

Other 'moral' precepts derive from abstractions (sometimes ludicrous, driven by superstition) meant to preserve the pack or rather its integrity. (We don't intermarry with THOSE people)...

LC >;-}>

 

Christianity: A disgusting middle eastern blood cult, based in human sacrifice, with sacraments of cannibalism and vampirism, whose highest icon is of a near naked man hanging in torment from a device of torture.

Cpt_pineapple's picture

So if the majority of people

So if the majority of people decided that slavery was moral again, you'd jump on board? I doubt it.

 

 

Quote:

 


Other 'moral' precepts derive from abstractions (sometimes ludicrous, driven by superstition) meant to preserve the pack or rather its integrity. (We don't intermarry with THOSE people)...

 

 

 

No, they are the same side of the coin. Loyality and charity to the ingroup usually means hostility towards the outgroup.

 

 

 

 

 

harleysportster's picture

Cpt_pineapple wrote:So if

Cpt_pineapple wrote:

So if the majority of people decided that slavery was moral again, you'd jump on board? I doubt it

 

 

Do you personally believe there is an objective morality ?

If so, how do we arrive at an objective conclusion ?

Me personally, I define morality as the minimalization of harm. However, harm is also somewhat subjective. For instance, I smoke and I drink, is it moral for someone to prohibit me from doing so ? I ride a Harley Davidson, rain, sunshine, sleet or whatever. That could cause me serious harm (one of the reasons that I am a careful rider, rather than a show-off)  is it moral to say that I should not do so ?

Now of course, I could analyze this to the point that it becomes ridiculous, but this new book has really got me pondering.

When I say minimalizing harm, I would of course be inferring harm to others (i.e. rape, torture, murder, and theft) but this is only my interpretation.

Again, how would we reach an objective conclusion ? Is that even possible ?

“It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.”
― Giordano Bruno

Vastet's picture

No. Objective morality is a

No. Objective morality is a myth. No matter the scenario posited, multiple conclusions can result based on the subjective perceptions and beliefs of those who experience it.

Proud Canadian, Enlightened Atheist, Gaming God.

harleysportster's picture

Vastet wrote:No. Objective

Vastet wrote:
No. Objective morality is a myth. No matter the scenario posited, multiple conclusions can result based on the subjective perceptions and beliefs of those who experience it.

That is kinda what I am thinking. For instance, I posted above, that I think it would be wrong to kill.

However, if I came home and found someone attacking my girlfriend, they can consider themselves dead. Cause if they do not kill me, I most certainly will kill them.

However, let's take Harris's example of say, genocide in Rwanda.  I personally find that immoral. But, because I find that immoral, is there anyway that we can safely say that is objectively immoral ? I don't know.  According to Harris (at least, from what I have read thus far) if I say no, then I am somehow going against human nature, but if I say yes, that would mean that I am agreeing there is objective morality.

I am getting a headache. Hehe. Construction has been rained out the past couple of days and perhaps I have too much time on my hands.

“It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.”
― Giordano Bruno

Vastet's picture

I can come up with a number

I can come up with a number of ethical reasons for justifying mass murder in almost any circumstance. Primary among them is overpopulation.

That doesn't mean I think mass murder is a good thing, or even the best option, but the nature of the universe is not unending peaceful cohabitation and reproduction. Resources are not kind enough to multiply themselves in conjunction with our reproduction. Nor do they await our arrival in every place we go.

The Earth itself is a dynamic system with disasters every day that cause millions or billions of deaths per day.

All multicellular life preys on life in some manner or another to survive.
Even plants require nutrients from the dead, and gasses from the living.

The fact is that killing is perfectly acceptable to everyone, to pretty much all observed life. Even peta dickheads kill 'innocent' plants and innoculate against virus' and bacteria.

Eventually, thanks to entropy, it will inevitably ALWAYS come down to us or them, me or him/her/it.

Proud Canadian, Enlightened Atheist, Gaming God.

Louis_Cypher's picture

Cpt_pineapple wrote:So if

Cpt_pineapple wrote:

So if the majority of people decided that slavery was moral again, you'd jump on board? I doubt it.

 

I'd like to hope I wouldn't.

But that sort of demonstrates another reason Objective Morality is impossible.
Moral precepts never change over night, but as a gradual process with many fits and starts. But they DO change.

There is always a voice of decent. Always an anti to the pro. In the times of slavery, there were those who argued against. I'd like to hope I'd be on their side. But the mere fact that there always is the differing view, shows that no moral precept can be carved in stone.

LC >;-}>

 

Christianity: A disgusting middle eastern blood cult, based in human sacrifice, with sacraments of cannibalism and vampirism, whose highest icon is of a near naked man hanging in torment from a device of torture.

wtf? how is this refute the

wtf? how is this refute the subjectivity of morality?  If the slavery laws changed tomorrow I would still view them from my current moral paradigm.  They would SUBJECTIVELY be filtered through what I already hold moral/immoral today.  So no, of course I wouldn't find it moral, but that's not because there's an objective morality.  I think you have raised a very silly point here.

 Edit - directed at Pineapple

"Don't seek these laws to understand. Only the mad can comprehend..." -- George Cosbuc

Cpt_pineapple's picture

As for the subject of

As for the subject of morality, I don't know if I'm comfortable with either objective or subjective morality.

 

If it's subjective, than I may decide that slavery is moral

 

If it's objective, then I may decide that some trivial thing is immoral and stop it even if it'll lead to a greater good. For example, if I decide that killing is always immoral, then how would we have fought the Nazis?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kapkao's picture

Ktulu wrote:To claim that

Ktulu wrote:

To claim that there is an objective moral frame of reference, is not only severely shortsighted, it also fails to identify what that frame of reference is.  Ultimately, if you follow that well traveled path you must arrive at God.  If you attempt to define it in a purely relativistic paradigm, you will fail miserably.  

I've actually had this discussion with my younger brother a few years back.  He's also an atheist, and he intuitively assumed an objective morality mirroring humanism and of course, ran through his subjective cherry picking perception.  I simply asked him to define it, and as he attempted he slowly came to realize where it would lead.  In his case it was mostly due to lack of thought put into the issue.  His intellectual honesty led him to admit he was wrong and we still crack incredibly geeky jokes about it to this day (people think we're weird).

And here I was, thinking that people adopt their system of morality on the basis that it is both intuitive (to them) and (to them) it 'feels' like the 'right' system of morality to internalize. I feel the urge to point out there is at least one RRS'er who believes that their (or anyone's?) sense of morality is somehow above being challenged despite having invested so much emotion and (IMO) nearly zero reason into their sense of morality. This person has no apparent interest in comparing their moral views to others in any objective sense imaginable, and responds either with silence or highly self-righteous (and content-free) snark when challenged about it -the latter being something I consider a trait of more reactionary minds.

It's possible this unnamed individual considers the internet a poor place to debate about morality and philosophy, and that is an understandable sentiment. There are a myriad reasons why debates and discussions about things as personal and highly philosophical as morality simply do not flow over optic fibers in the same manner they would in live conversation. Without detailing them, it makes sense that a website is useful about morality discussions only as long as the participants can agree on what encompasses "bedrock values".  At the same time, there could be a lot to learn from a discussion on morality provided that even if someone disagrees, they don't resort to "flungmonkeydung" to make their point. My experience with reading morality debates suggests that the entire discussions goes downhill when someone makes a point of substituting posting content with snark or flames.

Either way, I'm inclined to think that objective morality is possible in the context of knowing how the Anterior Prefontal Cortex (aPFC) of most healthy, emotionally-stable human brains work in terms of chemical and physical reactions, and the microscopic neuron structure used when pondering or making a moral decision. If you have that sort of information before you, I would think you could understand how morality works in even the most sociopathic of human brains. It is known (at least) that sociopaths understand the morality of others, they simply only care to adopt behaviors around such morality only so long as they see gain in doing so. Apparently, this means lacking a "conscience". Since both sociopaths or psychopaths have a basic understanding of how to socialize and manipulate and can even assign emotions based on primary and secondary colors (i've forgotten where I read about that), they have the basic underlying potential of empathy but not the singular necessary mental faculty to process it.

This is to say... universal, objective morality is a likelihood once it is fully understood how the Central Nervous System (or brain) makes moral and social decisions. There are scanning and imaging techniques available to medical research to identify the macroscopic structures involved in some thought processes but not the microscopic structures. (I would have to dig up an old book to recall all of the techniques and their precise names. The book is... difficult to find at present and I have a habit of losing track of personal possessions as does most of my family.)

edit; proof reading. edit2; MOAR proof reading

“A meritocratic society is one in which inequalities of wealth and social position solely reflect the unequal distribution of merit or skills amongst human beings, or are based upon factors beyond human control, for example luck or chance. Such a society is socially just because individuals are judged not by their gender, the colour of their skin or their religion, but according to their talents and willingness to work, or on what Martin Luther King called 'the content of their character'. By extension, social equality is unjust because it treats unequal individuals equally.” "Political Ideologies" by Andrew Heywood (2003)

Brian37's picture

If evolution changes life,

If evolution changes life, morality most certainly cannot nor should stagnate over some sense of nostalgia. Our species has ebs and flows of doing good and doing bad to others. But there is an overlap of morality that humans have. That too changes.

We all find it good to have food, shelter and love. Those are things we find moral because when we have them we think that the more of that, the more chance of offspring, so that is our evolution at work.

But what we do need to get away from is seeing a particular label as inventing morality or having a monopoly on morality. A label does not automatically make someone good or bad, not even the label "atheist". Labels merely are short cuts describing that person's position on a given subject such as politics or religion.

So morality has to be defined, even if it changes over time, through the common humans have and not through their different labels.

If morals were absolute, then slavery would still be acceptable.

"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers."Obama
Check out my poetry here on Rational Responders Like my poetry thread on Facebook under BrianJames Rational Poet also on twitter under Brianrrs37

Vastet's picture

@ Kapkao Sociopath and

@ Kapkao

Sociopath and psychopath are not valid psychiatric terms, and haven't been since the 80's. Much of your comment is in violation of currently understood psychiatric conditions. In fact, someone with antisocial personality disorder is generally incapable of understanding morality. And in fact often display a reckless disregard for their own, and anyone elses, safety. They are not known for understanding ethics and choosing to ignore them.

Proud Canadian, Enlightened Atheist, Gaming God.

butterbattle's picture

Cpt_pineapple wrote:As for

Cpt_pineapple wrote:

As for the subject of morality, I don't know if I'm comfortable with either objective or subjective morality.

Reality doesn't care whether you're comfortable with it.

Are you seriously still struggling on this topic?

Quote:
If it's subjective, than I may decide that slavery is moral

You can feel whatever you want either way.

The existence of objective morality doesn't prevent you from having personal values; it merely presents a universal standard.   

Furthermore, moral objectivism and subjectivism are truth claims, not moral claims in themselves. So your appeal to consequences is fallacious. 

Quote:
If it's objective, then I may decide that some trivial thing is immoral and stop it even if it'll lead to a greater good. For example, if I decide that killing is always immoral, then how would we have fought the Nazis?

Again, you can feel whatever you want. But, if morality is objective, then it exists independent of our values; your feelings do not determine if killing is objectively immoral.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare

Cpt_pineapple's picture

butterbattle wrote:Are you

butterbattle wrote:

Are you seriously still struggling on this topic?

 

Very much so

 

 

 

Atheistextremist's picture

This topic brings to mind the

 

points made by Dawkins in The Selfish Gene in relation to Hawks and Doves - aggressive and non-aggressive organisms in a particular environment. Game theory shows that the most mutually beneficial situation is an all 'Dove' population but these Doves are so exploitable that a population of Hawks will always appear to momentarily exploit it, until the Hawk population reaches a level where aggressive behaviour is too expensive/dangerous to risk. At this point, a balance is reached. The variance between Hawks and Doves is explained by the underlying genetic signatures of organisms in their environment. If we agree that gene evolution, DNA and RNA, drives the evolution of life, then breaking morality out of a genetic landscape and anthropomorphising it in order to comprehend it, is utterly worthless. Those genes that enhance replication through achieving an evolutionary balance thrive, those that fail to replicate through pathological altruism or hyper-aggression, become extinct. The end. 

 

"Experiments are the only means of knowledge at our disposal. The rest is poetry, imagination." Max Planck

Kapkao's picture

RAWG!

atheistextremist wrote:
This topic brings to mind the points made by Dawkins in The Selfish Gene in relation to Hawks and Doves - aggressive and non-aggressive organisms in a particular environment.

How exactly does animal behavior apply to human behavior? Group dynamics? Ecological dynamics? Basic neural and social hierarchy of other vertebrates?   

... evolutionary psychology? You're basing whatever science might be centered around human morality in the foreseeable future on just evolutionary psychology? Tell me I got that wrong...

Using the genetics of all vertebrates (or even just all amniotic vertebrates) to understand the chemical, physical, and neuroligical basis of human morality is worthless, yes. Not the end, though. Group behavior does make sense in terms of studying the behavior of other social animals, only that what you get from it is a better understanding of convergent evolution and group dynamics. You might have a better chance of understanding the morality of Homo Sapiens Sapiens (us) if you base your comparison on Pan Troglodytes (chimps), our nearest evolutionary cousin that shares many of our psychological traits. Then, in terms of evolutionary psychology, you have a comparative basis for human morality. You still have a long ways to go before you are able to observe how morality develops in an individual's brain independent of their evolutionary background and their ability to socialize with others.

And for a last bit of (semirelevant) snark: proteins of varying complexity also drive evolution in addition to nucleic acids, and the origin of proteins on Earth is believed to predate the origin of the first nucleic acids and cellular life here. The end? Fin? /shrug

“A meritocratic society is one in which inequalities of wealth and social position solely reflect the unequal distribution of merit or skills amongst human beings, or are based upon factors beyond human control, for example luck or chance. Such a society is socially just because individuals are judged not by their gender, the colour of their skin or their religion, but according to their talents and willingness to work, or on what Martin Luther King called 'the content of their character'. By extension, social equality is unjust because it treats unequal individuals equally.” "Political Ideologies" by Andrew Heywood (2003)

Kapkao's picture

Vastet wrote:@ Kapkao

Vastet wrote:
@ Kapkao Sociopath and psychopath are not valid psychiatric terms, and haven't been since the 80's. Much of your comment is in violation of currently understood psychiatric conditions. In fact, someone with antisocial personality disorder is generally incapable of understanding morality. And in fact often display a reckless disregard for their own, and anyone elses, safety. They are not known for understanding ethics and choosing to ignore them.

Problem: you seem to misunderstand the precise terms I used in my response. My words were "It is known (at least) that sociopaths understand the morality of others, they simply only care to adopt behaviors around such morality only so long as they see gain in doing so. Apparently, this means lacking a "conscience"." and this remark still very much stands because there are numerous actual examples of recidivistic criminals using the morality of others to better exploit them for personal gain. What exactly is the context for "valid psychiatric terms" and "currently understood psychiatric conditions", may I ask? The DSM-IV and ICD-10? If that is the case, then I'm going to defer to actual psychiatrists and psychologists on the issue. I use "psychopath" a "sociopath" because these are terms widely accessible to the general public, and to most people willing to apply a minimum of critical thinking skills (that I have met personally), they make sense. I'm not alone in this regard; the original linked picture gives context for most of my post, and it was authored by someone with (I believe) more hands-on expertise with psychology than most of the people posting about psychology at RRS, including myself - this is a person with a "BAppSc (chem). Nanotech biosensor masters/doctorate thesis underway". There's also the counsellingresource.com article that makes direct references to sociopathy and psychopathy being a distinct phenomena from DSM's "Antisocial Personality Disorder". Granted, that article is primarily someone's opinion and not really based in fact. Granted, psychiatry is 90% opinion of professionals and maybe 10% intricately studied fact.

 

To give your generic, unspecified dismissal the benefit of a doubt; most medical dictionaries agree with you that "psychopath" and "sociopath" are anachronisms. Professionals and experts I have come across do not share what appears to be your opinion that they are "not valid" because the most modern tools of diagnosis (DSM-IV TR and ICD-10) suggest as much.

“A meritocratic society is one in which inequalities of wealth and social position solely reflect the unequal distribution of merit or skills amongst human beings, or are based upon factors beyond human control, for example luck or chance. Such a society is socially just because individuals are judged not by their gender, the colour of their skin or their religion, but according to their talents and willingness to work, or on what Martin Luther King called 'the content of their character'. By extension, social equality is unjust because it treats unequal individuals equally.” "Political Ideologies" by Andrew Heywood (2003)

Atheistextremist's picture

Hawks and doves are Dawkins' metaphor

Kapkao wrote:

atheistextremist wrote:
This topic brings to mind the points made by Dawkins in The Selfish Gene in relation to Hawks and Doves - aggressive and non-aggressive organisms in a particular environment.

How exactly does animal behavior apply to human behavior? Group dynamics? Ecological dynamics? Basic neural and social hierarchy of other vertebrates?   

... evolutionary psychology? You're basing whatever science might be centered around human morality in the foreseeable future on just evolutionary psychology? Tell me I got that wrong...

Using the genetics of all vertebrates (or even just all amniotic vertebrates) to understand the chemical, physical, and neuroligical basis of human morality is worthless, yes. Not the end, though. Group behavior does make sense in terms of studying the behavior of other social animals, only that what you get from it is a better understanding of convergent evolution and group dynamics. You might have a better chance of understanding the morality of Homo Sapiens Sapiens (us) if you base your comparison on Pan Troglodytes (chimps), our nearest evolutionary cousin that shares many of our psychological traits. Then, in terms of evolutionary psychology, you have a comparative basis for human morality. You still have a long ways to go before you are able to observe how morality develops in an individual's brain independent of their evolutionary background and their ability to socialize with others.

And for a last bit of (semirelevant) snark: proteins of varying complexity also drive evolution in addition to nucleic acids, and the origin of proteins on Earth is believed to predate the origin of the first nucleic acids and cellular life here. The end? Fin? /shrug

 

for aggressive and self serving behaviour in genes on one hand and passivity and altruism on the other. The hawks and doves aren't real animals but represent the success or failure of particular behaviours of particular genes according to game theory. Ultimately, if our genome itself is an ecosystem, then the dictator of  behaviours we label morality must be genetic. Obviously we agree that from genes spring all relevant biochemical triggers.

If we start at the cellular beginning we see 'moral' behaviour in individual bacteria in colonies which warn each other of danger and sacrifice themselves for the group and we see 'moral' behaviour in our immune cells which fight off infections. Such behaviour must be explicable at the most fundamental level - it can't be reverse engineered or cells would never have co-operated to create complex multicellular organisms in the first place.

Currently, I don't think morality is cultural or the product of the prognostications of the cerebral cortex. I think it might be innate. And sure - there's no explanation for the mechanism of this. But in my opinion it's not just a mental decision to be nice or to share. At its purest in humans, the behaviour we label 'morality' seems to me to be partly a whole body 'feeling'. I'm open to other explanations as they come to hand, obviously.

You seem to imply moral behaviour is the province of higher orders, homo saps, chimps. I'm not convinced of this. A genetic source for behaviour we subsequently label 'moral' is no problem for me. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Experiments are the only means of knowledge at our disposal. The rest is poetry, imagination." Max Planck

Vastet's picture

@ Kapkao, I spent 15 years

@ Kapkao, I spent 15 years working side by side with psychiatrists and psychologists in multiple hospital settings, and have taken courses in psychology and psychiatry. And in my experience (far superior to yours) you are speaking to idiots.

Proud Canadian, Enlightened Atheist, Gaming God.

Philosophicus's picture

...

harleysportster wrote:

... I posted above, that I think it would be wrong to kill.

However, if I came home and found someone attacking my girlfriend, they can consider themselves dead. Cause if they do not kill me, I most certainly will kill them.

I read The Moral Landscape too.  I liked it.  Sam Harris is a moral realist and consequentialist.  Moral realism means that moral truths exist; consequentialism means that our behavior should be judged according to the effects it has, rather than on our character, the nature of the action, our intentions, or who told us to do it, etc.  He also is a utilitarian, which is a species of consequentialism.  It means the consequences of our behavior should increase happiness for the most people possible.  I don't remember the nuances of Harris' particular moral philosophy.

I don't know how Sam Harris would respond, but I want to give a sketch of my opinion.  Morality is not absolute, meaning that it can and does change -- it's relative in that sense.  We do have an objective basis for morality -- our brains; evolution has hard-wired us with different drives and there's a lot of variety in our species (this creates conflict with competing interests).  Subjective morality would be if everyone made up their own rules, or if someone in the tribe wanted to make up their own rules.  If everyone made up their own rules they probably would not be effective and would get out-competed by other tribes.  In the second scenario, with the lone dissenter, problems could arise with envy from the tribesmen, for example.  It's more complex than this, I just wanted to make some short points.

The advantage that humans have is a well developed cognitive potential (relative to the other primates and animals).  We can make cognitive technology like science and reason, which allows us to make environment-altering technology that shape our lives.  Our genes design our brains, but we take over after that -- our brains can be shaped by the environment and our thinking.  The genes had one shot to make us, and we can make a little dent.  Maybe a huge dent will be made in 10 million years with advancements in cognitive science and other technologies.

I'm a compatibilist when it comes to free will.  I think we have a little bit of it, some people have more than others.  My point, to sum up, is that morality is relative and therefore flexible -- it's not absolute.  It has an objective basis in our desire to enhance well-being and reduce suffering, and there are truths about the universe that allow us to objectively achieve it (and discover regularities/recipes about it).

The hardest part of morality is negotiation.  I like the democratic way of inquiring into and debating about the best way to live as a society, and keeping the rules open to change. 

 

P.S.  Regarding your murder scenario, I take the position that behaviors should be judged on a case by case basis.  Sometimes it's okay to kill, sometimes it's not.  It's like Sam Harris said about the rule "don't lose your queen" in chess.  It's not absolute -- sometimes losing your queen is the best thing you can do.