Introduction to Secular Ethics

. 2 min read

By no means will this be a comprehensive essay on how one can establish Good and Evil objectively. Indeed that is out of the scope of this blog. For further reading, I highly recommend Universally Preferable Behaviour by Stefan Molyneux. The goal of this post is to open the mind to the possibility that moral rules could be objective.

By proving that a moral rule: "Thou shalt steal" is irrational, we learn that, at the very least, moral rules can universally be discounted without having a religion or culture in common.

There are a few parameters that must be applied to a moral rule (something that labels what people morally ought or ought not to do) in order for it to be objective:

  1. There cannot be a scenario in which it is impossible for someone to be good. For example, the moral rule: "Thou shalt help those in need"[1] is invalid as the moment that one stops to sleep or eat they are not good. Not to mention all the people who may otherwise be physically unable to help by not being in proximity or physically disabled and so on.

  2. Moral rules must be applied impartially to all moral agents[2]. That is to say: there must not be an arbitrary distinction between different moral agents. The rule "It is good to murder this nations soldier if you are that nations soldier" is logically inconsistent; to assert your moral rule over another would need you to accept that it would also be rational for the other to claim theirs over yours. Thus arriving at an impasse.

Now let us apply these requirements to the rule: "Thou shalt steal" and see what we can learn.

The first point is violated as the moment one takes a rest from stealing (even if in a coma) they are not good. It may not be clear, but this rule also violates point two; stealing is defined as taking without permission, thus, with this rule in place, one must simultaneously accept that others can take your possessions while not giving them permission to take it. In other words, you must give permission (in order to allow people to be good) to take without permission!

Thus, I hope I have convinced you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is no conceivable way that stealing is moral; that "Thou shalt steal" or "It is good to steal" is as irrational as saying "This number, one, is the same as two". The idea that stealing isn't good shouldn't come to a surprise to anyone, but the fact that we got there using a systematic framework is incredibly significant!

Secular ethics are important because they eliminate manipulation and separate personal motives. You no longer need a priest, politician, or even a philosopher to tell you what is right or wrong and even if the motivation to act morally is different amongst various groups (religious, political, and so on) the outcome is the same.

What were your thoughts on this post? Have you been convinced there is potential for Good and Evil to be objectively defined?

  1. This could be read as "It is morally good to help those in need" or "It is morally evil to not help those in need". ↩︎

  2. In this case meaning anything that can conceptualise Good or Evil. ↩︎

Graeme Russell

I created this blog as a way to reach people about topics I care about: ethics, self-improvement, and lifestyle. I hope you can find something of value here.