Without God, How Do We Determine What's Right and Wrong?
Nonbelievers have several options when it comes to choosing a normative ethical theory. These options include ethical egoism, Kantian ethics, utilitarianism, virtue ethics, social contract theory, and ideal observer theory, to name just some of the numerous choices available. Since an entire website could be devoted to ethics, this section of the index is limited to links to all of the relevant essays available on the Secular Web.
Ethical Egoism, Hedonism:
In Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality, Tara Smith gives a rigorous statement and defense of one version of ethical egoism, Ayn Rand's Objectivist ethics (capital 'O'). In this review Stephen Parrish, a Christian philosopher, argues that although Smith's book has virtues, it also has major deficiencies. These deficiencies include virtually ignoring important alternative ethical theories like utilitarianism and Kantianism, disregarding extended critiques of Objectivist ethics by contemporary philosophers, and most of all, failing to refute the implication that actions like lying, stealing, and murdering would be considered morally acceptable (indeed, even obligatory) on Objectivist ethics if they furthered one's own interests.
Kantian Ethics or Deontological Theories:
That Colossal Wreck (1997)
Ravi Zacharias's A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism is an unsuccessful attempt to refute or discredit atheism. One area Krueger addresses is Zacharias's mischaracterization of Kantian ethics.
Utilitarianism or Consequentialism:
Paper defending those who adopt consequentialist ethics from the charge that they do so to absolve themselves of all personal responsibility.
Ideal Observer Theory:
This is a review of Michael Martin's Atheism, Morality, and Meaning (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2002). "Michael Martin is an eminent atheist philosopher, and he gives us a hard-hitting critique of those theistic arguments which claim that all is futile in the realms of morality and meaning if there is no God. However, although Martin does well in exposing some common mistakes of theistic moral arguments, he is less convincing when he argues for objective morality in a godless world."
In Atheism, Morality, and Meaning, Michael Martin clarifies the relationship between atheism and morality and between atheism and meaning. Although Martin's book is a welcome addition to the literature on these topics, it also has some shortcomings. These shortcomings include an unsatisfactory discussion of atheism and the motivation for being moral, the justification for being moral, an incomplete discussion of moral arguments for God's existence, disregarding critiques of moral objectivism by contemporary philosophers, and a counterintuitive defense of ideal observer theory.
In this review of Michael Martin's Atheism, Morality, and Meaning, John L. Perkins outlines Martin's responses to the theistic charge that atheists lack the motivation to be moral (in virtue of denying that rewards and punishments for earthly behavior exist after death), and the charge that atheists' lives are devoid of meaning. Martin first formulates and defends a version of secular ethics based on ideal observer theory, then turns to a critical analysis of religious ethics based on divine command theory. Martin further argues that, contrary to popular belief, it is theists--not atheists--whose lives lack real meaning. Christians in particular, Martin argues, ground meaning in a doctrine of atonement which actually undermines accountability for one's own actions. After noting a significant weakness of the book, Perkins suggests that the Golden Rule underlies an effective motivational constraint on undesirable social behavior.
Jeffery Jay Lowder maintains this page.
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