This past weekend I was searching through old articles on the Council for Secular Humanism’s web site when I came across an excellent essay by philosopher Paul Kurtz that provides a brief yet sound outline of secular ethics. I’ve rarely posted here in defense of secular ethics broadly — I guess I’ve taken their acceptance among my readers as a given — so if you’re interested in the subject, you might enjoy reading this:
But “How can you be ethical if you do not believe in God?” protests the believer. Perhaps such a person should enroll in an elementary course in ethics, where he or she would discover a rich philosophical literature dealing with this question. The good is usually defined as “happiness,” though there are differences between the eudemonistic (emphasizing enriched self-development) and the hedonistic (particularly American) brand of intemperate consumption. Perhaps a harmonious integration of the two theories can be achieved. I would call it rational exuberance. Philosophers have emphasized the importance of self-restraint, temperance, rational prudence; of a life in which satisfaction, excellence, and the creative fulfillment of a person’s talents is achieved. It does not mean that “anything goes.” Humanist ethics focuses on the good life here and now.