Ethical Subjectivism

Ethical subjectivism, also called moral subjectivism, is a philosophical theory that suggests moral truths are determined on an individual level[1]. It holds that there are no objective moral properties and that ethical statements are illogical because they do not express immutable truths[2].

As a cognitivistapproach to subjectivism, ethical subjectivism suggests that moral statements are propositions that describe the attitudes of an individual rather than something social, cultural or objectively universal[3]. Contrary to moral conventionalism, ethical subjectivism maintains that the validity of moral standards depends on their acceptance by an individual[4]. Since there is no absolute truth, what is right and wrong is relative to the individual and moral principles vary from person to person[5]. Moral judgements are dependent on the feelings of the persons who think about such things. For example, if a person states that “lying his wrong”, they are simply expressing that they disapprove of lying[6].

Four Types of Ethical Subjectivism

Simple Subjectivism: asserts that ethical statements reflect sentiments rather than facts.

Emotivism: claims the ethical language is not factual language that conveys information humans can demonstrate to be true or false, but that it is used to influence the attitudes and behaviour of others.

Individual Subjectivism: argues that it would be more profitable to examine what people actually do in order to determine the actual content of ethical behaviour.

Ethical Relativism: holds that what is customary in one culture may not be customary in another, making all ethics not universal, but relative to the culture within which it emerges[7].

Arguments For Ethical Subjectivism

Ethical subjectivism provides a simple explanation of morality. It reflects the subjective and evaluative elements of morality by exposing the relationship between morality and one’s feelings, and the judgments make by moral statements. The theory may enable those arguing over the morality of an issue to see that the dispute lies within their own preferences rather than objective truth. As well, the theory illustrates the persuasive intentions behind ethical discussions[6].

Arguments Against Ethical Subjectivism

Ethical Relativism has implications such as moral infallibility and moral equivalence. It does not offer a way for parties engaged in ethical debate to resolve their disagreements because each side is required to acknowledge that the opinion of their opponent is equally as factual as their own[2]. Individuals can never have a moral disagreement if both sides are morally ideal[8]. As well, blame cannot be placed in a conflict if moral truths are always objective.

[1] Temple, Colin. (2012). Ethical subjectivism. Philosophy Index. Retrieved from
[2] Maston, Luke. (2008). Ethical subjectivism. The Basics of Philosophy. Retrieved from
[4] Waluchow, Wilfrid. (2003). The Dimensions of Ethics. Toronto, ON: Broadview Press. p 68.
[5] Latus, Andrew. (2001). Moral relativism and objectivism. Introduction to Philosophy. Retrieved from
[6] Subjectivism. (2012). Ethics Guide. BBC. Retrieved from
[7] Ethical subjectivism. Leadership Ethics. Villanova University. Retrieved from
[8] Vaughn, Lewis. (2012). Subjectivism, relativism and emotivism. Doing Ethics. Retrieved from