Ethics, Applied Ethics, and Human Rights

What are ethics and moral theory? Metaethics tries to identify what is the Good?  What kind of properties make up the good?

It seeks to determine where moral principles come from and what they mean.  Metaethics examines the role of reason, the will of god, and the meaning of many ethical terms, such as the Good, in an effort to provide a framework for ethics.   Normative ethics attempts to arrive at a moral standard which can distinguish right from wrong.  It is concerned with finding rules for governing human conduct and action.  Applied, or practical ethics, examines controversial topics such as abortion, animal rights, and stem cell research in an attempt to find solutions to issues which involve basic rights–the right to self-rule, the right to be free from pain. The question of what constitutes personhood is involved in the debates concerning practical ethics.  Metaethics plays a role in applied ethics, too, as it examines where moral principles come from and what they mean. 

This preface is divided into two sections.  The first will be a discussion devoted to the inadequacy of a theistic ethical system, with a consideration of the three main value systems employed in normative ethics.  It will examine systems of normative ethics in an effort to determine whether there are value systems which can be sustained without supernatural beliefs.  There will be a discussion of some contemporary ethical theories that are currently of interest to scholars and secular thinkers.

The second section will discuss applied ethics and deal with the difficulties in arriving at a consensus concerning ethical procedures among disparate cultures and value systems of different countries. Some of the areas discussed will be bioethics, animal rights, the right to die, abortion and circumcision.

That the Christian Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is an inadequate source for a genuine moral theory has been noted so often that to repeat it seems gratuitous.  However, at present people the world over are reading the Bible, in one translation or another, and many of them believe the Bible is inerrant. Religious fundamentalists think that reading the Bible and interpreting it correctly with the help of men inspired by god, provides a guide to leading a moral existence.  Biblical principles for ethical behavior are vague, and when subjected to scrutiny, do not appear to be much help to humans struggling to create a moral code for themselves, families and communities.  There are the Ten Commandments, only five or six dealing with applied ethics.  There is the precept of “Do unto Others as You Would Have Done unto You.” The Sermon on the Mount, purportedly preached by the historical Jesus in the New Testament, contains guides that are centered on future reward.  It has been noted that the Old Testament approves of slavery, rape, ethnic killing, and more.  The history of Christianity is riddled with cruelty and intolerance, with well documented records from such atrocities as The Inquisition, Calvin’s Geneva, and the Crusades.  The list is long and shameful.

Another guide for Christian ethical behavior is the Divine Command Theory, a deontological ethical idea, debated by theologians to this day. A deontological ethical system states that the rightness or wrongness of an action depends on its intrinsic qualities, rather than its consequences.  Socrates, the 5th Century Greek Philosopher, disposed of the philosophical merits of Divine Command with impeccable logic.  Plato records that Socrates was going to Court one day when he ran into the Prosecutor Euthyphro, who was in the process of prosecuting his own father for murdering a laborer. Because Greek culture places its first value on the family, Euthyphro was being criticized by many Athenian citizens. In the Euthyphro Dialogue, as it is known, Socrates questions Euthyphro, asking him if he thinks he is doing something immoral.  Euthyphro explains that he believes himself an expert at interpreting the gods’ wishes.  He attempts a defense of the Divine Command Theory- we humans know what is good for us because god tells us what is good.  But Socrates strikes at the illogic of Divine Command.  Is an action a good thing because god recognizes the good and commands it, or is it good because god commands it?  Either answer creates a dilemma for the theologian, and Christian thinkers have been struggling, with very limited success, to reconcile the Euthyphro problem for centuries.[1] 

First, if god recognizes that a thing is good and then commands it, the source of goodness is not god, and the foundation of ethics is located outside god.  Logical reasoning opens the door for a secular ethics.  Secondly if it is good because god commands it, then the theist must admit that she has adopted a moral system in which “anything goes.”  Bertrand Russell, the brilliant 20th century philosopher, had this to say concerning Divine Command: “If the only basis is God’s decrees, it follows that they might just as well have been the opposite of what they are: no reason except caprice could have prevented the omission of all the “nots” from the Decalogue.”[2] Kierkegaard, the 19th century Christian existentialist, carried the Divine Command premise to its logical conclusion by praising Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, according to god’s command.  Kierkegaard regarded Abraham’s obedience as “a leap of faith” necessary for the true believer to take.

Both the Bible and Divine Command are inadequate as lynchpins of moral guidance.  Christian morality is not merely unsatisfactory, but often malevolent.  It is obvious that a secular moral theory is not merely possible, but desirable.  At present, there are three normative philosophies which stand out and are of interest to atheists.  The preface will also include social contract theories and discuss a few exceptional thinkers of the present day.

The first normative school is virtue ethics, going back to the ancient Greeks, and most fully described by Aristotle, a philosopher from 4th Century Greece.  Virtue ethics locates moral being in the self; it is a philosophy that posits being rather than doing. It consists of three principles: arête, or excellence, phronesis, or practical wisdom, and eudemonia, human flourishing.  Practicing to embody certain virtues for their own sake, rather than for personal gain or benefit, will help the Virtuous Man act morally when decisions must be made for action.  Aristotle identified nine virtues that were most compatible with excellence:  wisdom, prudence, justice, fortitude, courage, liberality, magnificence, magnanimity, and temperance.  The most important of the nine virtues is wisdom, which includes practical wisdom.  Each of the virtues represents the Golden Mean between two vices. “Moderation in all Things,” was a necessary component of Aristotle’s virtue ethics.

Aristotle believed that the individual possessed of arête, excellence, and phronesis, practical wisdom, could attain eudemonia, flourishing, exclusively within the context of the community, which was the polis, the Greek city state. Eudemonia entailed attaining the Good Life. Each citizen was obligated to choose a “mean” which was right for him.  Aristotle’s theories have had a great deal of influence on legal questions through the centuries.  Virtue ethics did not allow one to claim innocence or ignorance if caught in an immoral act, such as stealing. If the accused was forced to steal by the threat of violence or death, or made an honest mistake, then Aristotle believed that she should not be punished.  But he maintained that people make conscious decisions when they act.

Alasdair MacIntyre has been one of the strongest contemporary advocates of virtue theory. His book, After Virtue, (1929) asserts that citizens should focus on the community’s moral health and welfare and less on individuality and self-fulfillment.  He believes that moral certainty has been eroded by philosophers such as A.J. Ayer, a 20th century logical positivist (see Logical Positivism) and by David Hume, the famous 18th century skeptic.  He maintains that contemporary humans live in a diminished world of aesthetes, bureaucrats, and therapists.  Another well-known contemporary virtue theory philosopher is Martha Nussbaum, who finds the theory applicable to capability approach in international development.

Aristotle’s virtue ethics seems most compatible with small, intellectually active communities such as the polis in ancient Greece rather than the large urban metropolises of the present day. An attractive feature of Aristotle’s virtue ethics is the idea of habituating people to be well disposed and to conduct themselves with good behavior toward fellow citizens, without depending on complex, impractical philosophic systems.  But he is vague concerning the means to achieve the goals of civility.

Aristotle is also indistinct when defining the virtues.  Socrates would question Aristotle’s theory by first asking him what he meant by the term the Good. Socrates would attempt to arrive at a precise definition of each of the nine virtues. Critics have noted that Aristotle merely indicates “the whereabouts of virtue.” He is not prescriptive enough about what we, as virtuous people, are supposed to do in his famous volume, The Nicomachean Ethics (350 B.C.E.)  Who is the good person, and how can she be recognized?  The good person, invested with the virtues, is supposed to know what to do in a given situation, but the argument becomes somewhat circular.  The good person will know what to do because he is good.

Despite the indeterminacy noted, the philosophy is still influential. Neglected for many years, virtue theory is presently being examined as a viable ethical system.  It is of interest to atheists because it is a moral system that does not need underpinning from a god or supernatural impositions. 

The second normative system of ethical philosophy is deontology, exemplified by the ideas of the 18th Century philosopher, Immanuel Kant, arguably the greatest philosopher of the German Enlightenment, and one of the greatest philosophers of all time.  Kant’s moral system is seen by some atheists as quite operative without a god.[3] Kant himself thought that morality depended on a belief in god.  It seems possible that a deontological system could work without a transcendental other. However, John Rawls’ Theory of Justice, a deontological social contract, is informed by Rawls’ earlier Christian beliefs.  (See Below) Kant’s theory is such an important facet of ethics that an unbiased examination of its precepts is in order, particularly since it is arguably viable without the concept of a superior being.

Kant believed in what he termed Good Will, an important facet of his system of ethics.  Good will is intrinsically good, independent of self interest or desire to do otherwise.  Actions, too, are intrinsically good because of their motives and those motives must derive from duty rather than from consideration of consequences.  He states: “Duty is the necessity to act out of reverence for the law.” 

The “law” Kant refers to is the moral law, and the importance of that law is that it has universability- it can be applied to all people in all situations under every set of circumstances.  Kant originated the famous idea of the Categorical Imperative, which is the foundation of his philosophy.  He states: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” He means that each person, by her decision to act in a certain way, determines that everyone, now and in the future, should act according to this rule.  Borrowing money, knowing you will not be able to pay it back, exemplifies the concept.  (Excluded is borrowing in good faith and being unable to make good on your debt.)  What if everyone acted in this manner?  You, too, could eventually be defrauded.  Therefore a rational person will not borrow in bad faith. Kant concludes with making the same point about lying- it is not permissible even in the most exigent situations.

An important part of Kantian philosophy is the obligation to treat other people as ends and not merely as a means to something.  The rule of end in itself places great value on human life. Similarly, Kantian ethics emphasize that the moral obligations the autonomous will imposes on itself should be considered morally binding on itself and on others.  These obligations, he states, are chosen by reason.  Kant’s ethical system, up to this point, seems to be quite functional as a secular philosophy.

However, in the end, Kant commits himself to the serious transcendental position that although truth with regard to humanity and god are beyond human reason, people cannot function as moral beings if they do not believe in god, freedom, and immortality.  Kant decided to criticize reason “in order to make room for god.”

A well known criticism of Kantian objective, teleological moral theory is that it is only dressed up popular morality.  Jeremy Bentham, the 18th century utilitarian philosopher, charged that deontology attributed morals that were really subjective to natural law or universal reason.  Other critics note that deontologists are bound by constraints such as never lying, which can lead to immoral results. Would it be wrong to lie if one could save a worthy person’s life by telling his potential murderers that he had turned into the street on the left rather than the one he had actually turned into, the right?  Some critics maintain that the options permitted by the Kantian moral system are socially insensitive.  A person has the option to never give money to the poor if he does not desire to do so.

Some contemporary deontological philosophers are Thomas Nagel, Thomas Scanlon, and Frances Kamm. Social contract theories, such as John Rawls’, considered by some scholars to be deontological, will be discussed below in a section designated Social Contract Theory.

The third normative ethical theory is utilitarianism, a universal teleological system, calling for the greatest good for the greatest number. The atheist philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, wrote Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789.)  Bentham sets out to make law and morality “scientific.”  He maintains that humans are governed by the two principles of pain and pleasure, and that people seek pleasure and avoid pain. He states that laws should be passed only if they maximize pleasure and minimize pain for the vast majority of people.  In moral philosophy, this idea is called consequentialism- an act is judged good or bad by its consequences.  He invented a sort of “felicific calculus” which would attempt to measure happiness.  The calculus would ask how intense the happiness was, how long, how likely to occur, side effects that would be unpleasant, etc.  Bentham was followed by a pet pig, and some jesters gave his theories the name of “pig philosophy” because of its emphasis on rather hedonistic, populist pleasures.

John Stuart Mill refined Bentham’s ideas, as he was not in agreement with Bentham’s populism.  Mill, who wrote On Liberty in 1858, is considered a rule utilitarian because he thinks it better that ordinary people should obey traditional rules rather than calculate what they should do at all times.  But the rules that should be obeyed are those that create, from experience, the greatest happiness for the greatest number.  Mill was a non- believer in religion, stating that his father had told him not to ask who made him, because the next question would have to be, who made my creator? Mill was a great pluralist.  He wished to see an open society with different types of people, all free to follow individual life styles.  He feared the “tyranny of the majority,” as he wrote in On Liberty. 

Mill wrote Utilitarianism in 1863.  He attempts to elevate utilitarianism into a philosophy that prioritizes the so-called higher pleasures.  His version of eudemonia defines happiness as coming from intellectual, aesthetic, and social enjoyments, as well as from the avoidance of pain or discomfort.  He speaks about two types of pleasure, the lower, or elementary, such as eating, drinking, resting and sleeping, and the higher, intellectual activity of scientific and creative occupations and the pursuit of knowledge.  The lower pleasures lead to pain, if overindulged in, and are not as lasting or satisfying as the higher. He states that it is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied, and a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.[4]

Utilitarians believe that morality and law were made for man, not man for morality and law.  They think that justice must serve human needs.  The early utilitarians were advocates for the poor being helped, women liberated, and prisoners rehabilitated.  All these “good things” were to be pursued in the name of utility:  to ameliorate suffering and promote more pleasure and happiness.  There are two principles involved in utilitarianism: the first is consequentialism, that the rightness or wrongness of an act is determined by the goodness or badness of the results that flow from it- in other words, the ends justify the means. 

There are many positive aspects to utilitarianism, a secular ethical philosophy.  One of its most attractive principles is that it offers one single system for action: do whatever promotes the most utility. Utilitarianism seems to arrive at the core of promoting human progress and reducing suffering.  There are many influential neo utilitarian moral philosophers at present: Sam Harris, Peter Singer, and Kai Nielsen, among others. Harris and Singer’s ideas will be discussed below. Nielsen asserts no rules are sacrosanct; he believes every situation calls for a different response. He thinks that there is a possibility any rule can be over ridden even though he admits that we have to protect a few absolutes for the good of society.  Nielsen also believes that utilitarianism should encompass negative responsibility, that we are responsible for our non-action as well as our actions.

There are many salient objections to utilitarianism.  The first is the no–rest problem.  The no-rest difficulty is in trying to choose what is best for the greatest amount of people’s happiness. Should one go to the cinema or spend the time helping the homeless?  If I make $100,000 a year, what portion, if any, should I donate to the poor?  Another objection is the one brought by Bernard Williams, the philosopher.  If a person has an obligation to be of utility to the greatest number of people, would he then violate his integrity by killing one individual to save nineteen others?[5]John Rawls makes a strong point in his false analogy argument against utilitarianism.  Utilitarianism is prescriptive; it makes a demand of people beyond personal choice.  It can prevent you from buying the jewelry you might want to help pay for the good of the community.  It can also extend the futurist ideas of agent utility in a way that violates individual rights, which is very problematical. Another objection is that of intent.  If a surgeon operates on a patient and the patient dies, we do not blame the surgeon if he has acted competently and in good faith. So how can we judge a moral action by its consequences alone and not its intent?  Critics have noted that “moral action” implies intent. 

Utilitarian theories continue to thrive during the present time; utilitarian philosophy has been modified, weakened, and criticized, but remains an attractive philosophy for the secular community.

Social contract theories have been placed in a category of their own in this Preface, which will cover Thomas Hobbes, the 17th Century royalist philosopher and John Rawls, a 20th Century Social contract theorist. Other Social contract philosophers were John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau. The Preface will glance at game theory, which emphasizes cooperation between people.

Thomas Hobbes’ theory is plain spoken and easy to comprehend.  In his well known volume, Leviathan, (1651) he asserts that humans are innately immoral in a state of nature.  He believes that people are possessed of psychological egoism.  Hobbes is the author of the famous phrase about life in a state of nature being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”  He maintains that morality grew out of people’s need to avoid conflict because in their initial selfish state, they stole from each other, murdered, and committed all types of violent acts. As people were in a condition of continual fear with the state of affairs, they reluctantly came to an agreement not to harm or steal from each other.  This heightened state of anxiety and disorder finally came to an end with a social contract.  People then extended it one step further, to a government contract which enforces the original contract.  Hobbes believes in a “strong man,” an absolute ruler, followed by a strong government with laws, a well-armed police force, and army.

There are many arguments refuting Hobbes’ description of man in a state of nature.  Our nearest relatives, apes and chimpanzees, live in nurtural groups.  Chimpanzees do go on raiding parties against other groups of chimpanzees, but they live together with cooperation.  There is little historical evidence for social contracts.  Critics of Hobbes point out that people risk their lives to save others and give money secretly to charity; not all human acts are self-serving.   Hobbes’ theory is flawed but still important to the history of ethical philosophy.

Social contract theory has been reworked by John Rawls.  His volume, Theory of Justice, (1971) involves an interesting scenario.  He asks his readers to imagine a group of persons coming together to envision a future society for themselves and their children to live in. These people have been chosen because they are all rational, self-interested and equal in status, educational and otherwise.  A “veil of ignorance” must be enforced among them, which means that each member of the group will not know the prospects of success, financial and social, for any member, including herself, in the future society.  They will know nothing about the other participants’ present status and ability. The “veil of ignorance” concept is important, because each person will want to ensure his own protection in case he fails.  Rawls maintains that the group will ultimately emerge with concepts of both freedom and difference.  They will choose freedom to live the way each of them wishes to. Additionally, they will be in favor of toleration of differences between people in the future society.  Because of the initial contract, members who fail in the future community will be guaranteed a minimum standard of living.  Rawls’ justice theory can be applied without a transcendental anchor.

Another idea of social cooperation is game theory, which roughly can be described as “The Prisoner’s Dilemma.” This theory was finalized by Albert J. Tucker, who decided to play the game with prison sentence pay offs, and who gave the game its name.  Two prisoners are arrested; the police offer each prisoner the same deal, but have separated the two so they don’t know what deal each one has been offered.  If one testifies against the other (defects) the defector goes free and the silent one gets ten years in jail. If both remain silent each get six months in jail. If each betrays the other, they both get five years. When the game is played over and over, the players generally defect over and over.  The so-called rational self-interested choices they make demonstrate that their choices have made them worse off than if they had remained silent or had each one chosen to lessen the sentence of the other at the expense of a rather longer term for himself. Had they cooperated, they would have both been better off.   This particular game theory, The Prisoner’s Dilemma, demonstrates the benefits of social cooperation, and the difficulty of achieving it.

Michael Martin, an atheist philosopher and moralist, recommends the Ideal Observer theory, first described by Roderick Firth. In his book, Atheism, Morality and Meaning (2002,) Martin discusses what he considers a plausible theory for atheist morality.  Ideal Observer is a cognitivist theory.  Martin sets his universalist theory against the Divine Command Theory, moral relativism, and subjectivism, as well as other ethical theories.  The originator of the theory, Firth, states that the ideal observer embodies the following characteristics: omniscience with respect to nonmoral facts, omnispercipience, distinterestedness, dispassionateness, consistency and normalcy.[6] Ethical judgments should be interpreted as statements that a fully informed observer would make.  X is good means an ideal observer would approve.  An ideal observer is not god; it is also not any real person anywhere.

Martin combines ideal observer theory with wide reflective equilibrium, which is the end point of a process, during which people first reflect on and revise beliefs about an area of inquiry.  John Rawls is an advocate of a form of reflective equilibrium.  Simply put, if a person believes the Bible is the source of morality and the Bible tells him that people who work on Sunday should be killed, the person may not feel that the admonition is the correct ethical position.  To bring his ideas into equilibrium he must decide that people who work on Sunday should be killed, or that the Bible is not the source of ethics, or that he should try to protect people who work on Sunday.  Martin demonstrates convincingly in his text that secular ethics theories are far superior to theistic ones.

Moral relativism is currently a theory which has great appeal to certain segments of contemporary thinkers, although most professional philosophers do not consider it a sound position.  Louis Pojman lists three basic ideas concerning relativism which are (1) that what is considered morally right and morally wrong varies from culture to culture and society to society; (2) what determines an individual’s right to behave in a certain ethical manner depends on the standards of his individual culture; (3) there aren’t any absolute ethical standards of behavior that apply to all people all the time and everywhere.

A problem with ethical relativism is that if followed logically, a subjective view of ethics develops. In a society, so many subjective ethical positions stand in danger of ending in right and wrong being regarded as a matter of personal taste. Such a conviction can lead to incoherent thinking and societal chaos.  What most ethical relativists embrace is conventional ethical relativism, which allows for the premise that morals are made true by cultural acceptance; while the universal moral position is rejected, the social nature of reality is admitted.

The theory of moral relativism is very attractive at first glance, particularly for secular people who have rejected conventional religious, deontonic values.  But relativism has reached such logical limits of political correctness, especially in some areas of academe, that it has become “not right” or unethical to criticize any culture outside our own.  This is not a coherent course of action.  What does one do concerning the practice in North Africa and other areas of the Mideast of clitoridectomies, removing small girls’ external genitalia?  Are we unethical in criticizing this practice and absolutely wrong to intervene, even by disapproval? 

Clyde Kluckhohn believes that there are some common features that can be communicated transculturally.  Some of these features include duties of restitution and reciprocity, some regulations on sexual behavior (such as restrictions on pedophilia and incest,) obligations of parents to children, a no unnecessary harm principle, and a sense that the good should flourish and the guilty should suffer.[7] These principles seem to be part of our human shared experience and need, especially in a world of scarce resources.  A culture can sometimes be confused in its moral perceptions.  Another society may be closer to the truth.  Ethical relativism as philosophy does not hold up well under scrutiny.

The English philosopher, George Moore, in his 1903 volume, Principia Ethica, has raised a difficult question called the naturalistic fallacy.  It is often confused with Hume’s Is/Ought problem.  Moore believed that good is its own unique property. He was certain that, as Michael Martin, the secular philosopher, explains, the sphere of ethics must define itself by reference to such a state of affairs: the simple, unanalyzable and indefinable property of good.

The ethical theories we have looked at in the Preface are based on what their proponents considered reason.  David Hume, the 18th century skeptical philosopher, asserted that morality is based on sentiments rather than reason.  He believed that morality cannot be judged through the senses. He stated: “I shall endeavor to prove first, that reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will; and secondly, that it can never oppose passion in the direction of the will.” Hume is also famous for locating the is/ought  problem in ethics.  We do not have time to adequately treat this important and still debated difficulty.  Hume simply states that he notes that when he begins to read ethical or moral philosophy, he finds after a time, that the text has moved from a descriptive one, to a prescriptive one.  How to avoid prescription rather than description is a matter still under question.

The preface’s glance at moral theories considered in contemporary thought makes clear that the choices for secular ethics are abundant.  The future for secular thinking is filled with potential, as neuroscience advances in learning how our minds work and what might be the most rational solutions for our society.  It is certain that morality based on conventional religious thinking is bankrupt, and that it is often corrupt, cruel and irrational.  The claim of theists that there can be no morality without god is arrogant, ignorant and duplicitous.

Ethics, Applied Ethics, and Human Rights, with Book Lists, are in a separate section below the Ethics Book List. Please continue below for discussions of Stem Cell Research, Abortion, Assisted Suicide, Gay Rights, Animal Rights, and Children’s Rights, with the subdivision of Children’s Rights into Religious Indoctrination, Physical Punishment and Circumcision.

 Works Cited:

1 John E. Hare. God’s Call: Moral Realism, God’s Commands, and Human Autonomy. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2001. IX.

2  Bertrand Russell. Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957.

3  Krueger, Douglas E.  What Is Atheism: A Short Introduction.  Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1998. 55.

4  Mill, John Stuart.  Utilitarianism. (1863). Cleveland: World Publishing, 1962.

5 Williams, Bernard and J.C. Smart. A Critique of Utilitarianism: For and Against. England: Cambridge University Press, 1973.  86-98.

6  Martin, Michael.  Atheism, Morality and Meaning.  Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2002. 55-64.

7 Kluckhohn, Clyde. “Ethical Relativity: Sic et Non,” In Journal of Philosophy, LLI. (1955)

Additional Reading

Avalos, Hector. The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of the New Testament. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015.

The following books have been chosen for their accessibility and value to the atheist reader of Ethics.

Appiah, Kwame Anthony.  The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen.  New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010.

Appiah is a professor of philosophy at Princeton University. In The Honor Code, Appiah is concerned with the way revolutions in thinking take place in citizens’ minds, so that a practice that was once considered honorable in a nation becomes a matter of shame and is finally eradicated.  Honor examines three morally indefensible practices: dueling, foot binding, and the Atlantic slave trade, relating how each of them came to an end. (While the Atlantic slave trade was eradicated, global slavery is still very much with us.  People are forced into labor to pay off permanent debts, and the global prostitution trade is thriving.)  Appiah discusses a fourth practice, honor killing, which is still active in contemporary societies, particularly in the Mideast, in countries such as Pakistan.

Appiah makes a telling point: people were not impressed by moral arguments about slavery, dueling, or foot binding.  It was the honor code that perpetuated these practices and people’s fear of the loss of honor that finally brought them to an end.  He points out that dueling and slave-owning, which ended in the early 19th century and foot binding, which ended in the early 20th century, were initially connected with status and honor. 

Appiah relates that moral arguments against these egregious practices existed long before they were brought to an end, and that moral discussions had little effect.  It was when national honor or class honor were linked to the ethical arguments that a moral revolution took place.  For instance, part of Britain’s revulsion with participating in the slave trade was that the British wanted to distinguish themselves from the slave-trading United States.  When faced with ridicule and disgust from other cultures, as with China and its foot binding custom, many deplorable practices end. Nations want, as well as power, the reputation of honor, and not shame.

Appiah hopes this principle will help end honor killing, a custom that kills as many as 5,000 women and girls annually.  They are murdered by men from their own family for such “offenses” as being raped, for being accused of adultery, fornication and so on.  External pressure, Appiah’s book argues, brought on a nation, exerts more influence than moral arguments.  Pakistan has already reduced the amount of honor killings as the custom is being held up to ridicule and disgust from abroad.

 Appiah is a universalist in morals, as was Kant, and to some extent, John Rawls.  All three assert that each person’s humanity entitle him/her to respect.  Honor is written in an energetic and easy to read style.  The arguments made for ending certain cultural practices that are repugnant are well thought out, plausible and robust.

Gazzaniga, Michael S.  The Ethical Brain: The Science of our Moral Dilemmas. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.

Gazzaniga is a renowned neuroscientist who served on the President’s Council on Bioethics.  He writes in a very concise, interesting style. This small, fact-filled volume sums up the difficulties of several ethical dilemmas. The author discusses the impact of our increasing knowledge about how the brain works vis-à-vis moral precepts.  He believes that our latest brain research, involving brain imaging and mapping, will lead to the formation of new guidelines.  He discusses such issues as abortion, aging brains, drugs for enhanced brain performance, free will, crime and individual responsibility and more.  One is impressed by Gazzaniga’s control of his subject when compared with Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape (2010.)  The Ethical Brain is hopeful that knowing more about how our brains function will help us formulate new ethical principles over time.  This is one of the best books for the secular reader who wants to begin learning more about applied ethics.  Highly Recommended.

Harris, Sam. The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. New York: Free Press, 2010.

 Harris has a doctorate in neuroscience and offers a rebuttal to the cliché that science cannot offer answers about “meaning, morality, and life’s larger purposes.”  He is certain that only science can help us answer the questions that have caused so much debate and so little clarity on human flourishing.  Neuroscience, he believes, will provide the answers.

Harris appears to be a neo utilitarian, but he never comes to grips with the problems embodied within utilitarian philosophy.  Anthony Appiah mentions a few of the difficulties in his review of Harris’ book.  How does one compare the well being of different people?  Should we try for a cumulative total of well being? (Logically, such a cumulative concept could end with a world of zillions of people with lives barley worth living.)  As Appiah notes,” If the mental states of conscious beings are what matter, what’s wrong with killing someone in his sleep?” Harris gives a brief mention of Derek Parfit’s work on such issues, but not Nussbaum or Sen who take seriously the attempt to identify and measure the components of well being.

Harris spends time with his well known criticism of religion and his attacks on moral relativism, but he either seems unaware or does not mention that a majority of present day philosophers identify as moral idealists who believe there are moral facts and that many are either true or false. Critics have noted this lapse. Gazzaniga has written a more thorough volume on what we know about the brain, and the ramifications of present and future knowledge for making ethical decisions. The Moral Landscape is interesting and well researched but wanders off into the anecdotal too often. One hopes Harris will write more concisely about naturalized ethics in the future.  However, Harris’ books have a large audience of secular readers and his opinions are worth considering. He has been a tireless advocate of atheism and has influenced many people in the secular direction.

Martin, Michael.  Atheism, Morality, and Meaning. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2002.

Michael Martin is an atheist philosopher who writes extensively on non religious subjects, such as the impossibility of god.  In Atheism, he attempts to defend atheism as a purposeful and moral philosophy. He compares atheist philosophy with the Judeo Christian legacy of morality and thoroughly demonstrates how flawed the Christian ethos is.

Martin begins Atheism with refuting criticisms of secular ethics and goes on to synthesize two concepts- ideal observer theory (Firth) and wide reflective equilibrium (a variant of John Rawls’ reflective equilibrium idea) into a secular moral theory.  (See this Ethics preface for a discussion of Martin’s ethical hybrid.)  

In Part 2, Atheism refutes Christian foundational ethics, including Divine Command, and imitation of the life of Jesus.  Part 3 explains the meaning of life for atheists and Part 4 concludes with a robust critique of the Christian doctrine of atonement, salvation and the resurrection.  Some critics and readers find little difference between Martin’s concept of the Ideal Observer, and the concept of a god, even though the fictional ideal observer is not supernatural. A flaw in the volume might be Martin’s neglect of other secular ethical theories in favor of his own.  Some critics find Martin’s ideal observer theory counter intuitive.

Michael Martin writes well and attempts to avoid technical language.  This is a volume for atheist readers who have read some introductory philosophy beforeattempting Atheism.

Nielsen, Kay. Ethics Without God. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, Revised Edition, 1990.

Nielsen is a very knowledgeable and polemical atheist.  His writing style is clear, precise and pungent.  Ethics argues that morality is not only possiblewithoutgod, but raises a provocative point- is it possible to be an ethical Christian?  He discusses Divine Command theory and demonstrates how inconsistent such a theory is with ethical choice.  Nielsen posits a secular ethical code that is superior to organized religion.

This revised edition of Ethics contains an opening section on natural law and a conclusion which explains Nielsen’s personal secular morality.  He conflates meaning and happiness, and many ethical philosophers would agree with him.  All Nielsen’s books are worth reading; he is a committed atheist who advocates the secular point of view with verve and style.

Pojman, Louis P. Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong. 7th Edition.  New York: Wadsworth Publishing, 2011.

Louis Pojman’s book is an excellent textbook, either for an introductory ethics course, or for an advanced class.  Ethics is user friendly for armchair students of moral philosophy.  Some of the topics covered are discussions of the three normative ethical schools: virtue, deontonic, and utilitarian. Pojman discusses moral objectivism, religion and ethics, egoism, the quest for the Good, ethical relativism, skepticism and more.

Pojman’s style is clear and his explanations of complex topics extensive and accessible. Many philosophy professors report using Ethics as a text for their classes with a great deal of success.  This volume contains additional reading references at the end of each chapter as well as a series of questions for students to consider in light of the material they have read. 

Pojman’s treatment of the various schools of ethical philosophy as well as of the moral questions raised by their theories is even-handed, thorough and interesting.  He explains each theory with copious examples to illustrate complex ideas and then discusses the critiques of those positions.  He finishes with a defense of each theory in answer to its critics.  Highly recommended as a first book in ethical theory or as a refresher for the reader versed in the topic.

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Original Edition. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press, 2005.

Although a revised edition of Theory of Justice was published in 1999, much of the literature referring to Rawls’ volume uses the first edition. 

Rawls’ volume is discussed in this Ethics Preface, but for those interested in reading the entire work, a brief repetition is in order.  To create a type of just social contract, people of equal status who are rational and self-interested are placed together to create an idea of a future society in which they and their children will live.  Their “Original Position” is that they do not know the social, intellectual or skill level of each other. They are under a “Veil of Ignorance.” Since they do not know the standing of the person they represent, gender, color and so on, they will not act only in the specific interests of that person, but will be forced to be more objective. Rawls believes, under the above conditions, that his original group will emerge with a belief in a great deal of freedom of choice for everyone and a tolerance of differences.  He believes, since no individual of the original group knows what his/her success level will be in the future society, that members will make a provision of some guarantee of minimal living standards for those who fail.

Rawls is a deontonist of the Kantian persuasion.  His ethical positions appear to have been informed by his discarded religious convictions, however, even though his stance throughout Theory is secular. This book is one of the most important volumes of moral theory published in recent years.  For some critics the book seems to ignore human nature.  There are readers troubled by the thought of a government controlling many aspects of their lives.  Theory of Justice is over 600 pages long and densely argued. Rawls’ style is considered dry by many readers.  There have been numerous criticisms of his theory from feminists, libertarians and communitarians.  His concept of justice seems to be one that is good on paper, but without a guarantee of holding up in the actual world.  Rawls’ emphasis on the dignity of the individual is very attractive, and Theory of Justice deserves a serious reading from secularists who are interested in law and government.

Singer, Peter, ed.  A Companion to Ethics. Oxford, U.K.; Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A: Blackwell Reference, 1993.

Peter Singer is an atheist philosopher currently at Princeton as the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the Princeton University Center of Human Values.  He is a neo utilitarian and he serves as editor of the Companion to Ethics.  He has brought together a collection of essays by different experts in the field of Ethics.  Companion is a sweeping work, with its writers coverings topics on contemporary ethics, the history of the philosophy of ethics, the great philosophical traditions of the Greeks, the Chinese, the Jews, and Islam, among others.  The text moves smoothly from the great Western classical tradition to modern moral philosophy.

There are a number of articles in the Companion dealing with normative ethics- ethics concerned with guiding action, such as “How Ought I to Live?, natural law, Kantian ethics, social contracts, egoism, contemporary deontology, consequentialism, virtue theory and more. The Companion ends with practical application considerations of ethics, such as world poverty, environmental ethics, euthanasia, abortion and more.

Some readers point out that the writer of the article on deontology (see the Ethics Preface Above) is apparently not a deontologist and that her objections to that position are not cogent.  Over all, the Companion to Ethics is an excellent volume.  An atheist reader might consider first reading the Pojman Ethics discussed above, and then begin reading the Companion for a broader look at the history and future of ethics.

Singer, Peter.  Practical Ethics, 2nd Edition.  Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Peter Singer, the Princeton Philosopher, has written an important book on ethics as applied to practical and controversial issues of the present day, such as euthanasia and abortion.  His text is clearly written, with a clear, if controversial, theory of ethics for consideration.  He is a neo utilitarian.  Most importantly, in this volume and others, Singer does not shy away from highly controversial issues, many of which can be repugnant to some readers. 

Singer’s first point is that the foundations of ethics begin with the idea of a special consideration of “interests,” to which he eventually assigns a hierarchy.  He believes that genetic differences between cultures and genders are not relevant, nor are differences between species.  For example, our interest in the taste of meat does not outweigh animals’ interest in avoiding suffering. 

Singer does not believe there is anything sacred in life itself and what is wrong with killing is that it violates future-directed interests.  One needs consciousness to be future-directed, so, according to Singer, it is all right to kill things that do not have self consciousness and are replaceable.  He takes this position on the fetus, which is not self-conscious, so he finds abortion ethically viable.

Singer’s views on infanticide are highly controversial but his position is misunderstood by many.  He believes some severely disabled infants’ lives are so blighted that their parents may want the children’s lives ended immediately.  But once it has been decided to let these infants live, everything possible should be done to improve their quality of life.

Singer, as a utilitarian, believes in the greatest happiness for the greatest number.  He finds secular humanism incomplete and advocates utilitarian personhood interest, with an absolute hierarchy of interests. Many will be offended reading Practical Ethics, but Singer will be seen by other readers as doing what applied ethics should do, thinking through difficult ethical problems with reason.  Singer is not afraid to venture into politically correct areas and to come out on the other side, often with controversial but courageous decisions.  Some readers will need intestinal fortitude to read Practical Ethics, but it is an important volume.  Highly recommended even when the reader violently disagrees.

Williams, Bernard. (1972.) Morality: An Introduction to Ethics. Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Williams’ intellectually stimulating, slender volume is a brilliant inquiry into philosophy, but it certainly is not a book for the beginning secular reader, despite its title. Williams, an atheist philosopher and admirer of ancient Greek society, muses on the nature of the writing style appropriate to books on morality, questions what morality is, and evaluates some moral systems.

Morality attempts to “defuse” subjectivism, but subjectivist positions do not necessarily lead to loss of confidence in morality.  Williams finds religion incurably unintelligible, but he is also harsh concerning the views of skeptics, who believe we have no way of arriving at moral knowledge, and on nihilism, the view that there are no moral facts.  Morality points out that moral relativism is a kind of dead end.  If those who believe that right and wrong are defined by the society one lives in maintain that we should be tolerant of others, the first thought is that their concept is a logical one.  But as Williams states, tolerance then becomes a non relative value, a prescriptive one.  He also finds utilitarianism a failure. 

Morality: An Introduction is a lucid book. Williams thinks and writes about moral positions with a depth conventional texts fail to achieve. This slim volume has a tone of civilized musing that has become a rarity in the humanities and comes to grips with the issues of ethical philosophy that more professional volumes fail to do. 

Further Reading (Volumes referred to in the text of the Preface have been omitted. See Ethics Preface.)  David Hume. A Treatise of Human Nature (1740); A. Macintyre’s After Virtue (2007); M. Nussbaum’s Love’s Knowledge (1992);  Z. Bauman’s Intimations of Post modernity (1991); K. Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies(1971); J.L. Mackie. Ethics(1991); J. Rachel. The Elements of Moral Philosophy (2011); James Q. Wilson’s The Moral Sense (1997); B.Gert’s Morality: A New Justification of the Moral Rules.(2005).There are numerous fine books in the area of Ethical Philosophy.  The books listed are a beginning.

The Teaching Company offers courses on various aspects of ethics.  The courses are usually 12 or 24 or more lectures of about a half hour each.  Some of the offerings are: Questions of Value; Natural Law and Human Nature; Ethics of Aristotle; Quest for Meaning: Value, Ethics and The Modern Experience.

(www.teach.12.come)  1 800 832-2412

“Relativity: Sic et Non,” In Journal of Philosophy, LLI. (1955)

John Stuart Mill: Victorian Firebrand.  By Richard Reeves.  Atlantic Books, 2011,616 pp. $19.95. Paper.

Alan Ryan, a biographer of Mill and a noted scholar, has written an insightful and elegant review of Reeve’s biography of Mill.  Surprisingly, there has not been a full-scale biography of Mill in what Reeves tell us is 50 years and more.  Reeves describes Mill as a polemicist and propagandist who,” in almost everything he wrote, was meant to strike a blow for progress as he conceived it.” He spends more time with the finished Mill, who served in Parliament from 1865 to 1868, and wrote the stirring works On Liberty (1859) and culminated with The Subjection of Women in 1869. 

Ryan’s review is in the December 8, 2011 issue of the New York Review of Books.  We will be talking about Mill and utilitarianism during our January 2012 Class.  This review and Reeves’ volume will be very helpful for discussion. 

Works Consulted Has Been Placed at the Conclusion of the Second Section of Ethics, Applied Ethics and Human Rights.

Applied Ethics and Human Rights

Discussions of Stem Cell Research, Abortion, Assisted Suicide, Gay Rights, Animal Rights, and Children’s Rights, with the subdivision of Children’s Rights into Religious Indoctrination, Physical Punishment and Circumcision.

The applied ethics and human rights Preface will deal with six controversial issues, several of them in the field of bioethics, and the contentious discussions brought about by advances in biology and scientific research. There are references to two or three of the most informative and accessible books in each area discussed:  abortion rights, stem cell research, animal rights, assisted suicide, gay rights, and children’s rights.  The book references are at the end of each section. Bioethics is a large field, with topics such as body modification, human experimentation, chimeras, circumcision, gene therapy and much more. Beauchamp and Childress’ book Principles of Biomedical Ethicsreferenced in this section, is the “Bible” to consult on bioethics.

Philosophy, particularly ethics, is more important than before, as ethical issues emerge with the advances in technology and science and their impact on the human.  Moral issues intersect with scientific advances and debates arise as to the use of drugs for brain enhancement, surgery for epilepsy and so on. Neuroethics is an emerging field that professionals think will have a large effect on such far reaching issues as law and justice.

There are four areas of guidelines for bioethics as agreed upon by most federal agencies and professionals in the medical fields. They are: non-maleficence, beneficence, autonomy and justice.  Non-maleficence is the principle of do no harm to the patient, the concept going back to Hippocrates, a Greek physician born in 460 B.C.E.  Autonomy recognizes the right of the patient’s values and wishes regarding medical practices performed.  Beneficence is the motivation to provide medical services to patients, and justice is to remind practitioners that the fundamental respect for human dignity requires basic medical services be made available to all. [8]

Central to the controversies involved in stem cell research, abortion, and assisted suicide are the deep differences between the religious and secular communities on the belief in the soul, a supernatural entity.  Belief in the soul explains the development and unique qualities of each individual from the moment of birth and is enmeshed in ideas of punishment and reward after the death of the body. Religious objections to the above practices are tied to the belief that the soul is present in the human body from the moment of conception until the last breath of the person.  Religious fundamentalists believe that because of the human soul, the right to life is a foundational right of human beings.  Secular persons have no belief in the hypothetical concept of a soul but are most interested in a humane outcome in individual cases.  Many secular people are for rights to abortion, stem cell research, and assisted suicide along with regulation. These issues have become entangled in a system of beliefs, misinformation, confused opinions and general lack of knowledge.

Stem Cell Research 

Stem cells are extracted directly from embryonic cells before those cells begin to differentiate. There are about one hundred cells in a blastocyst.  A large percentage of these cells are stem cells which can be kept alive and double every few days. A replicating set of stem cells from a single blastocyst is called a stem cell line.  The importance of these cells is that they are non specialized cells which can create specific cells, such as blood, brain tissue or muscle cells.  Stem cell research has the potential to one day help with the diseases of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and spinal cord injuries.

Many parents now make use of in vitro fertilization and create many embryos with no intent that every one will become a child.  After normal sexual intercourse 60 to 80 of embryos generated by the union of sperm and egg spontaneously abort.[9]  Michael Gazzaniga, a noted neuroscientist who served on the President’s Council on Bioethics, believes that extra uterine embryos do not deserve the moral status of a human person.  He explains that a clump of cells is not a human being.  He states that a baby in the womb cannot live outside that environment until week 23 of a pregnancy and the brain as well is not viable until week 23.

Many research scientists feel that research on fetuses should obey the 14 day cut off which ethical researchers now employ.  Fourteen days marks when no twinning can occur and the zygote is a cemented individual.  This is the time when the primitive nervous system develops. Most secular people believe that what makes a human being is the interaction between genes and environment.  Religious fundamentalists are interfering with a research project with great potential because of their belief in an immortal soul and their misunderstanding of biology. They have no real answer to the question of the chimera and the soul.  Chimeras have certain characteristics of two embryos fused into a single ball of cells which are capable of being implanted and which develop into a complete human being.  Both those embryos, according to Christian doctrine, had a soul at the instant of fertilization. They should be impossible to fuse into one soul.  Let us hope that one day religious fundamentalists will understand and learn enough concerning stem cell research to stand aside and allow science to decide on the merits or failure of using stem cells for human flourishing.

Some volumes on the controversial stem cell issue are:

Bellomo, Michael.  The Stem Cell Divide: The Facts, the Fictions and the Fear Driving the Greatest Scientific, Political and Religious Debate of our Time. Amacom, 2006.

This book is not a polemic, but gives the facts surrounding the swirl of emotions surrounding the issue of stem cell research.  Some see stem cell research as a cure for every disease, and others see it as a slippery slope to cloning. 

Gazzaniga, Michael S. Chapter One: “Conferring Moral Status on an Embryo,” in The Ethical Brain. Harper Perennial, 2006.

 A short excellent discussion on the status of the embryo versus a full human being.

Scott, Christopher Thomas.  Stem Cell Now: A Brief Introduction to the Coming Medical Revolution.  Plume, 2006.

 This volume by the director of Stanford’s Program in Stem Cells and Society is another even-handed treatment of stem cell history and controversy.  He explains why he thinks adult stem cells will never have the therapeutic potential of embryonic cells and tells the story of the scientists researching the field of stem cells.


Much the same controversy as that of stem cells entangles the issue of abortion in the United States, with the same degree of misinformation, irrational passions and misunderstanding.  Many atheists and secular individuals are pro-abortion.  This preface will discuss the termination of a pregnancy by surgical or medicinal intervention, resulting in the death of the fetus.  Such techniques are called therapeutic abortions.

In the United States, the Religious Right has waged a long campaign to limit or completely abolish abortions.  At present, Roe vs Wade still stands, but is in danger of being repealed. Roe vs Wade, decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1973, determined that a woman’s right to privacy under the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extended to an abortion.

Nearly all abortions in the United States take place in the first trimester.  A fetus cannot survive outside the mother even at 5 or 6 months old because its nervous system is not fully developed.  Fetuses which are developed for in vitro fertilization are routinely thrown out. Abortions are a safe procedure with 88 percent of them taking place in the first trimester with 0.05 percent of complications.  No medical or psychological association, including the American Psychological Association, has found any post abortion syndrome.  The stress involved in an unwanted pregnancy is highest before the abortion.  Only 8 percent of women who have abortions do so because they use no birth control regularly.

Many medical schools in the United States do not offer instructions to students about conducting an abortion.  In many rural areas and in some states, abortion is restricted because women do not have access to abortion services.  Doctors who perform this service are in fear of their lives from threats by anti-abortion foes. We have freedom of religion in the United States, including freedom from religious law.  Religious laws do not take precedence over government laws in our country.  It is hoped that more abortions can be safely performed with medicinal techniques, and that people use condoms more regularly. Even with such measures, access to abortion will be necessary. A new report in February 2011 issued by the federally financed National Domestic Violence Hotline states that 1 in 4 women who agreed to answer questions after calling the hotline said a partner who was already abusing them had pressured them to become pregnant, using such tactics as forcing the women to have unprotected sex, flushing birth control pills down the toilet and poking holes in condoms.[10] These statistics are not from a formal study, but are based on a survey of about 3,000 women. Many of the Religious Right are also opposed to contraception, which adds tension to the issue.  Surely a future where children are always desired and treated well, in which every human that comes into this world wanted and loved, should be the goal of a humane and rational country.

Books of interest to pro-abortion atheist readers are listed here:

Boonin, David. A Defense of Abortion. Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Public Policy. Cambridge University Press, 2002.

 Boonin, a professor of Philosophy, has written a superb volume that covers all the arguments against abortion and shows them to be lacking in logic.  His book takes into consideration all the rights and non rights arguments, the golden rule argument, the consideration of uncertainty question and finds abortion morally permissible even when using non abortionist terms for his argument.  Boonin uses a Rawlsian approach of reflective equilibrium and the book is a fine example of analytic moral philosophy.

Eig, Jonathan. The Birth of the Pill. Norton. New York: 2014. A well researched account of what went into making oral contraception available to the masses. 

Levitt, Steven D. and Stephen J. Dubner.  Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. Harper Perennial, 2009.

 Freakonomics makes the interesting point in a chapter that violent crime has gone down during the same period that Roe v Wade was enacted in the United States.  The authors believe that abortion has eliminated individuals who would be prone to a life of criminality due to economic and other negative factors in their upbringing and life conditions.  It is an interesting idea but it unclear how robust it will prove.

Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia

Central to the debate over assisted suicide and euthanasia is the concern for the absolute sanctity of human life. Most religious fundamentalists and some moral thinkers take the position that neither of these measures should ever be permitted.  The slippery slope argument is the fear that the disabled will be pushed to an exit they do not desire, as many disabled people are grateful to be alive and do not believe their quality of life can be measured by utilitarian standards of happiness.  People who are ill and the elderly fear that with health care costs soaring in the United States, they will be pushed to suicide without their consent.  They think of voluntary suicide as a halfway house to death without consent.

Voluntary euthanasia, or assisted suicide, takes place when a patient is fully conscious and able to request his or her own death.  In these cases, people are terminally ill, many of them in hospices, and/or in great pain and unable to die naturally.  As they are conscious and rational, their decision to die should be honored.[11] At present, three states in the United States have legalized assisted suicide: Oregon, Washington, and Montana. The patient’s condition is monitored by several doctors and other witnesses.  The state of Oregon has policies in place that protect the patient and yet give him or her freedom to choose the final exit.

Coma patients and people who are not conscious create more difficult decisions.  Unless they have left a living will or directive, the question of who will make the decision is a tangled one.  Frequently a decision is made when the brain dies.  There is actually no debate when the loss of brain function causes life to cease.  While practices differ from country to country, they all involve the question of who makes the call of brain death and what tests should be used to determine it.  But most cultures have quite similar definitions of brain death.

Most of the arguments against euthanasia and the right to die do not seem to hold up under rational analysis.  Nazi Germany had death camps because of doctrines of racial purity, not because of liberal assisted suicide laws.  If there are clearly understood and enforced rules, as in Oregon, slippery slopes can be avoided. It seems reasonable that a person has a right to choose to die with dignity rather than in pain, suffering, and depression.  The right to assisted suicide should be a fundamental freedom for each citizen.  Secular philosophies focus on quality of life, the capability to lead what can be considered, even from a subjective standpoint, worthwhile lives.

Books on the subject of assisted suicide:

Fitzgerald, Jeanne, Eileen Fitzgerald, and William Colby. A Better Way of Dying: How to Make the Best Choices at the End of Life.  Penguin, 2010.

 Better Way has been written by two sisters, one a doctor and the other a lawyer.  Both have seen how directives and living wills are sometimes not honored, so theyhave authored a book that explains how to prepare effective directives for caretakers that are clear and legally binding.

Feline, Peter J. In The Arms of Others: A Cultural History of the Right-To-Die in America. Diane Publishing Co., 2003.  

Feline’s book covers the history of the right to die in America.  He discusses the so-called Good Death in the nineteenth century, which was actually euthanasia. In the Arms covers the major court cases that have helped define right to die in this country, as well as a cogent explanation of how assisted suicide has been linked to the abortion debate.  He does not believe that ethical arguments or reasoned discussion have much force in our highly contested cultural terrain. But he does assert that assisted suicide will eventually prevail as a large percentage of our citizens desire control over their exit.  Feline points out yet another reality of our time- that many of us will be dependent on others to make the correct decision at the end.

Gay Rights

“If a male lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.  They shall surely be put to death.  Their blood shall be upon them.”   Leviticus 18:22 The Old Testament of the Christian Bible.

Gay rights is another cultural area where the Religious Right has been active in attempting to regulate sexuality.  As in the abortion issue, power and control over people’s bodies and sexual preferences seem to be a component of religious desire for restrictive laws.  Religious fundamentalists have a different outlook on homosexuality than many atheists and secular individuals.  Fundamentalists see gay people as upsetting the natural order and offending god by their decision to engage in gay sex and relationships.  Many atheists tend to see a genetic component to homosexuality.  Because atheists are invested in reason and science, many do not find any harm in gay marriage or relationships.  They are generally supporters of gay rights.  

This section will deal with one incident that is still pending, the issue of gay marriage in California. At present, five states in The United States, Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C., have legalized gay marriage. The California issue is an exemplar of the interference brought by religious fundamentalists on questions of Civil Rights. Proposition 8, or the California Marriage Protection Act, was passed by voters in 2008.  The measure had added a new provision to the California State Constitution which provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California.  Proposition 8 overturned the California Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex couples had a right to marry.

Proposition 8 was helped to pass by religious fundamentalists, particularly the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter- Day Saints, the Mormon Church.  Groups in California who were working to pass Prop 8 have admitted that 45% of the out of state money to help their cause came from Utah, the headquarters of the Mormon Church.  80 to 90% of the young volunteers who went from door to door, “educating voters” were Mormons.  Public opinion, which had been against Prop 8, changed near the election and the measure passed.[12] Proponents of the measure argued that heterosexuality was “an essential institution of society, that gay marriages would result in public schools saying gay marriage is OK, that gays did not have the right to redefine marriage for everyone else.”  Opponents of Prop 8 argued that the California Constitution should guarantee the same rights and freedom to everyone and that the proposition mandated one set of rules for gay and lesbian couples and another set for everyone else. They argued that equality under the law is a federal constititutional guarantee.

On appeal, in the Straus v Horton Case, the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8, but allowed previous same sex marriages to stand.  A U.S. District Judge, Vaughn R. Walker, overturned Prop 8 in 2010 but issued a stay on same sex marriage pending appeal.  At this writing, the California Supreme Court is deliberating the case.
UPDATE: On Feb. 12, 2012, CA’s 9th Circuit struck down Prop 8, which banned gay marriage. Gay Marriage is on hold, pending appeals. The defenders of Prop 8 can go to a full panel of the 9th Circuit, or to the Supreme Court. The narrow decision, stating that gays were denied under the Equal Protection Act, was likely a good move, given the Supreme’s Justices to make very narrow, rather than sweeping decisions.
Here is the full story, in the New York Times.

There are two excellent volumes on the history of Gay Rights in the United States.  Both are listed and readers might be interested in the perspectives from the authors of both volumes.

Clendinen, Dudley and Adam Nagourney. Out For Good: The Half Century Struggle for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights. 3rd ed. Simon and Schuster, 2001. 

This volume, written by two New York Times reporters, is an exhaustive history of the struggle for gay civil rights in the United States.  They have included over 700 interviews with the founders and opponents of the historic gay rights movement. They cover Stonewall of 1969 and the beginning of Act Up in 1987. The volume is very well researched and the writing is elegant.

Marcus, Eric. Making Gay History: The Half Century Struggle for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights. Revised Ed.  Harper, 2002. 

Marcus’ volume is another fine history of the gay rights movement in the United States, and contains oral history as well.  The text covers the beginning murmurs of the gay movement from 1950 to 1961,  the conflict beginning about 1961 until Stonewall in 1969, then the full struggle and flowering of the movement, with the shadow of Aids falling on the gay community from 1981 to 1997.  Some readers have a legitimate criticism that there is little mention of the bisexual and transgender community.

Hirshman, Linda. Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution. Harper Collins, 2012.

In the NY Times Review by Rich Benjamin, 6 24 2012, Benjamin states that Hirshman’s new volume covers the beginning of the first gay civil rights group in the country in 1950, The Mattachines, to the present, when the largest spokesman and advocates for gay rights organization, The Human Rights Campaign, just appointed the chief executive of Goldman Sachs as spokesman for its same sex marriage campagin.

Hirshman is realistic at the end, noting how many states do not allow same sex marriage and the discrimination that gay people in the U.S.A. still undergo.

This is another distinctive volume in the history of Gay Rights.…Animal Rights

“God gives to man authority over all created on Earth.” Genesis 1: 28.

“Animals are not made in the likeness of God.”  Genesis 1:26-27.

“And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.”  Genesis 9 1-2 (Man’s relation to other species.)  Old Testament, Christian Bible.

As with so many areas of human rights, animal rights is also held back by certain “religious textualizing.”  In the Christian Bible, god creates man as the overlord of all the species. Some Christians interpret man’s authority over animals as a dictum to be “good caretakers.” But the notion of man’s superiority has helped lead to speciesist concepts that allow people to kill, eat, hunt for pleasure, and torture animals in medical experiments.  We use animals as entertainment, as transport, and as unpaid workers.  A very controversial topic is what is to be done with experiments on animals to help humans.  Many cosmetic companies have stopped the egregious practice of testing makeup products for humans on animals.  It is now up for debate what guidelines humans need to follow when conducting medical experiments on animals to aid humans.  Many of these experiments are unnecessary and/or can be performed by other means.  Surely when there are other means to experiment, or where the experiments produce little or nothing useful for the benefit of humans, there should be a cessation of this cruelty to animals. 

Many classical Western philosophers did not see anything unethical in man’s treatment of animals, because they did not believe animals could think.  Descartes, the 17th Century philosopher, thought that animals were machines that did not think or feel pain. He maintained that “an animal screaming in pain is like a chiming clock.” Kant thought that cruelty to animals was wrong, but only because if people practiced that kind of cruelty, they would become inured to suffering and begin to be cruel to their fellow men.  Wittgenstein, the great 20th Century philosopher, came to the conclusion that as one cannot think without language, animals could not be conscious.

The utilitarian philosopher of the 19th Century, Jeremy Bentham, made a breakthrough when he asked concerning animals: “Can they suffer?”  Peter Singer, the 21st Century neo utilitarian philosopher, makes the same point as Bentham, but carries the concept to its logical conclusion.  He states that there are mentally disabled humans in our community now who are unable to communicate at all, but who would say they didn’t have equal human rights, especially the right to be free from pain? 

There is a “person’s argument,” which considers being human as meeting certain criteria, such as being wholly rational, able to use language, set goals, and have some sort of self awareness, memory and so on.  Such criteria might exclude animals, but would it not exclude a human in a terminal coma, too?  There is abundant evidence that some animals meet some of the criteria of personhood- great apes, whales, dolphins and others.  Gorillas and chimpanzees have much the same mental attributes as two or three year old human children.[13]

In the United States in the present day, we use 1.13 million animals for experiments, which excludes rats, mice, birds, reptiles, amphibians and agricultural animals for agricultural experiments, plus an estimated 100 million mice and rats.  76,00 of these had no pain relief.  Factory farms raise billions of animals a year.  Most of these animals suffer from the day they are born until they are cruelly slaughtered.  They are often kept in pens and cages where they cannot move, lie down, or turn around.  A typical slaughterhouse kills around 1,000 hogs per hour.  Tens of thousands of wild and domesticated horses are cruelly slaughtered every year to be used for horsemeat in Europe and Asia. 

285 million hens are raised for eggs in the United States and most spend their entire lives in battery cages.  These birds cannot turn around or lift one wing. Millions of day old male chickens are killed in high speed grinders every year because they do not lay egss.  More than half of the fur in the United States comes from China, where millions of dogs and cats are bludgeoned, hanged, bled to death and sometimes skinned alive for their fur. Millions of animals are killed for the clothing industry.  A huge amount of suffering goes into every fur trimmed jacket, leather belt, and wool sweater produced. 

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals takes the position that animals are not ours to eat, not ours to perform experiments on, not ours to wear, not ours to abuse, and not ours to provide us entertainment.

It has become apparent that animals differ from us in degree and not in kind.  They cannot speak for themselves nor seek justice from the courts.  They are deserving of protective rights, and it is up to concerned humans to speak for them and provide them freedom from cruelty and pain.

There are many excellent books on the topic of Animal Rights. Here are two that critics and readers find exemplary:

Francine, Gary L. and Robert Garner. The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?  Columbia University Press, 2010. 

Francione is a lawyer and author of volumes on animal rights.  Garner is a political theorist whose specialty is the philosophy and politics of animal protection. The two authors debate each other in two different sections on the best policy for animals.  Francione believes that there is no moral right to use animals and thinks that the human practice of using animals will always create a situation in which any attempt to provide meaningful protection to them will fail.  Garner believes in a strong policy of protectionism and argues his points well.  This is a very accessible volume with high marks from readers.  Francione is an advocate of veganism and his stance has resonance with many readers.  Some are not convinced by Garner’s welfarism and do not find his argument convincing.

Singer, Peter.  Animal Liberation. Reissue Ed. Harper Perennial Modern Classic, 2009.  

Singer’s book, originally published in 1975, is considered the Bible of the animal rights movement.  His arguments for the cause of animals are robust and persuasive.  He does not feel we are justified in using animals in the manner we do, particularly in experiments. He asserts that there is proof against the argument that animals do not feel pain. He explains that animal pain “centers” are very similar to humans, and not only do we have this similarity to deal with, animals also cry out in pain and try to avoid the source of it.  The book is particularly powerful when demonstrating the inhumane treatment of factory farming of animals.  Many readers maintain that reading Singer’s book has made them vegetarians or vegans.  Most readers agree that Animal Liberation has caused them to become convinced of the justice involved in seeking protection for animals.

For readers who wish to learn more about the field of animal rights, Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights (Updated 2004) and Empty Cages (2005) are excellent texts’ and Carol J. Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat ( Revised 2010) and the Pornography of Meat (2004) are of some interest.  A caveat: some readers and critics find Adams’ tone somewhat shrill and her points too didactic, which they feel lessens the power of her arguments.

Children’s’ Rights:   Religious Indoctrination, Physical Punishment, and Circumcision

More readings in Children’s Rights.

Joyce, Kathyrn. The Child Catchers. Perseus Book Group: New York, 2013.
Examines adoption horrors.

“Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is pleasing unto the Lord.” Colossians 3:20 KJV.

“Don’t fail to correct your children.  They won’t die if you spank them.  Physical discipline may well save them from death.” Proverbs 23:13 14.

“The rod of correction imparts wisdom but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.” Proverbs 29:15.

“Such shall be the covenant between Me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised.  You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.  And throughout the generations every male among you shall be circumcised at the age of eight days.” (God to Abraham in Genesis 17, part of the P Document, the last composed text and the first to mention circumcision.  See dates and speculations in Biblical Criticism.) Old Testament, Christian Bible

Religious indoctrination of children is a large concern for atheists.  An additional concern is the physical abuse children undergo because the religious beliefs of their parents encourage spanking and other types of violence. Article 14 of the United Nation’s Charter of Rights of Children concerns the right of a child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.  Calling religious indoctrination of children abuse is controversial yet children are involuntary participants in religious rituals from birth.[14]  This practice includes preaching, prayer, religious readings, church attendance, and frequently, Bible study classes.   Parents frequently either read from the Bible or make the children read from it, in cases where the child has either misbehaved or made an error in behavior.  Such practices encourage a child to think of herself as having sinned, instead of having made a mistake.

When a child grows a little older, she is often placed in private religious schools, or is home-schooled, which further indoctrinates her into the religious beliefs of her parents.  Many young people are coerced into attending religious universities or colleges because parents will not pay their tuition elsewhere.

The Catholic Church’s concealment of many of its priests’ abuse of children, sexual and otherwise, is well documented and the scandal and revelations are continuing as of this writing.

Every month there is a story in the news that children have been denied medical care by parents on religious grounds.  There are many cases where children are starved or beaten because the parents believe the child has been corrupted by Satan, or possessed by a devil.  The site of What’s The Harm on the Web has a long list of children’s names who have been abused or who have died as a result of the religious beliefs of their parents.

Volumes about Child Abuse and Religion:

Greven, Phillip J. Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse.  Vintage, 1992. 

Greven is a Rutgers history professor who teaches courses on the family.  He discusses the religious thinking and the Christian use of Biblical texts to justify corporal punishment for children.  He details the rationales for parent brutality through generations of religious apocalyptic thinking.  “Spare the Child” discusses the long range psychological effects on children of spanking, beating and abuse.  Highly recommended.

Heimlich, Janet. Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2011.

Heimlich is a free-lance reporter for National Public Radio who has won nine journalism awards.  She has written the best book yet concerning religious abuse of children.  When she began inquiring into the issue of religious child abuse, she found that in virtually all cases, there was a principle of denial present.  No one wanted to blame either religion or the system that perpetuated it.  She also discovered that religious authorities were in extreme denial of the extent of the abuse, particularly when it involved their own religious institutions. There was a tendency to explain away the perpetrator’s behaviour as mental illness, or as a misinterpretation of religious mandates.  Yet, in virtually all cases, she noted that the offenders all believed that they were the “real deal,” when it came to religion.  Heimlich’s insights are  crucial, as they shed light on the difficulties within religion itself in regard to the ill treatment of children.

Heimlich’s volume discusses sexual, physical, and medical maltreatment of children, but it also includes the lesser known egregious domination and intimidation of the young by many methods.  Some of these are spurning, terrorizing children by fear of the next world and other myths, and isolation.  The book also deals with male and female circumcision at some length, a topic that is seldom discussed in connection with religious child abuse.  The book is extremely well researched, with extensive footnotes and an excellent bibilography.  Highly Recommended- a volume that has been much needed.

Strauss, Murray. Beating the Devil Out of Them. Revised ed.Transaction Publishing Co., 2001.

Dr. Strauss discusses and dispenses with the myths that condone corporal punishment and child abuse.  He maintains that child abuse leads to adults that are more anti-social than less, that the adults who were abused are more likely to drop out of school, experience depression and become violent themselves.

Media: YouTube.  The Jill Mytton Interview- Richard Dawkins.  Retrieved May 26, 2009.  Richard Dawkins discusses the abuse of children due to religious beliefs.

What’s the Harm? A website devoted to detailing harm caused by various religious and cultural myths, beliefs and superstitions.  What’s the Harm prints a long list of children injured or killed by their parents’ religious or superstitious beliefs. 

 Circumcision- males

Circumcision is a religious/social practice.  It is practiced in the Jewish religion and also in many parts of the Arab world in the Mideast.  Circumcision is not practiced in most First World countries except the United States.  82% of the world’s young men are intact. It was introduced in the the medical profession and became popular starting around 1870.  Reducing masturbation in children was a large goal of many circumcision proponents, although there were claims it cured children of paralysis, prevented penile cancer and other canards. About 100 babies die each year in the United States due to complications from circumcision. 1 out of every 500 circumcisions results in a serious complication, such as hemorrhage, infection, damage to the penis, and other difficulties.  Female circumcision is illegal in the United States, while male circumcision is often performed in United States’ hospitals, frequently financed by Medicaid.

There are many misconceptions surrounding the circumcision of male babies.  Circumcision does not make the penis immune to infection, sexually transmittable diseases or penile cancer. In fact, a hospital circumcision on a baby boy makes him 12% more vulnerable to MRSA, a dangerous bacterial infection, than baby boys born in the hospital and not circumcised.  Smegma is the material that lubricates the cavity between the foreskin of the penis and glans, thus allowing smooth movement between them at intercourse.  It is not dirt, and it is easy to clean. Over 15 square inches of highly innervated, specialized erogenous adult tissues are severed by the surgical practice of circumcision. 

There is an attempt on the part of pro-circumcision advocates to make the claim that circumcision prevents HIV.  Condoms prevent HIV.  The United States has one of the highest rates of male circumcision and one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the Western World.  According to Tina Kimmel, MSW, over 600,000 circumcised American males have been infected with the AIDS virus since the infection began.  It has been said that circumcision is a practice in search of a disease.  There is, in addition, no other surgery that can be performed by someone who is does not have a license from the state.

Tina Kimmel makes the point that circumcision is a profit-driven enterprise, as well as a cultural/religious practice. The surgery itself, the follow-up surgeries for repair, and the sale of foreskins to cosmetic companies for testing are a multi billion dollar business. 

Many medical practioners, such as Dr. Dean Edell, have been advising against circumcising male babies for years.  The American Academy of Pediatricians states that circumcision is not essential to the child’s current well-being. With the facts becoming clear that the practice of circumcision is not medically necessary, the infant circumcision rate in the United States is now 32%, down from 56% several years ago, according to a Center of Disease Control report.  The time has come to end this unnecessary, sometimes dangerous practice.  Young children do not need to lose healthy tissue, suffer pain and potential complications from a procedure that is not medically necessary and in which the children have no choice.

Male circumcision in the hospital. The baby boy is placed on a restraining board and straps secure the hands and feet.  The tight adhesions between the foreskin and glans (or head) of the penis are separated with a medical instrument.  The foreskin is held in place by metal clamps while a cut is made in the foreskin to about 1/3 of its length.  A metal or plastic bell is placed over the head of the penis to protect the glans and the foreskin is pulled up over the bell and circumferentially cut. The baby boy does not receive an anesthetic very often, and when he does, it is with a needle directly into the penis, which is painful in itself.

Books and Organizations:

Glick, Leonard B. Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America.  Oxford University Press, 2005. 

Leonard Glick is a cultural anthropologist with a medical degree.  He has written a scholarly account of the practice of male circumcision from the ancient world to the present.  His style is accessible, scholarly and humorous; his exposition on the practice of circumcision is aggressive and logical.  He explains that according to Genesis, god made a pact with Abraham that would give his descendants glorious blessings if they would be circumcised.  Glick expounds on the history of circumcision, from Judea to the Christian world and finally to the troubled view of circumcision in the present. Chapter six is a large section which details the medicalization of circumcision and the pros and cons of medical opinion and writings on the topic.  He devotes some time to representations of circumcision in the media. Dr. Glick discusses and dismisses the idea that the baby does not feel pain when it is circumcised.  He writes brilliantly on the right of the child “not to be mutilated without consent.” Parental desire, states Glick, does not override the fundamental principle that any and all medical or surgical interventions must be unambiguously in a child’s best interests…”are we now prepared to accept the principle that, from the moment of birth, every child has all the human rights of any other person- including the inviolable right to freedom from nonconsensual, nontherapeutic bodily alteration.”  Highly Recommended.

Heimlich, Janet. Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2011. See Child Rights Above.  This is a highly recommended volume which includes an excellent discussion of male and female circumcision as religious child abuse.


8 Beauchamp, Tom L. and James F. Childress.  Principles of Biomedical Ethics. 6th Ed.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

9 Gazzaniga, Michael S.  The Ethical Brain: The Science of Our Moral Dilemmas.  New York: Harper Perennial, 2006. 13-14.

10  Rabin, Roni Caryn. “Report Details Sabotage of Birth Control.” New York Times 15 February 2011. Print.

11  “Important Facts About Physician Assisted Suicide.” Endlink: An Internet-based End of Life Care Education Program Funded with a Grant from the National Cancer Institute. (Web

12  Badash, David.  “Mormon Church Role in Passing Prop 8 Under State Investigation.” The New Civil Rights Movement. 25 Nov. 2008. (Web

13  DeGrazia, David. “On The Question of Personhood Beyond Homo Sapiens.” In Peter Singer, ed. In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave. Mass; Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2005. 46-51.

14  YouTube. The Jill Mytton Interview- Richard Dawkins. Retrieved May 26, 2009. Web.

 For readers who are interested in important editions:

It cannot be stressed enough that for secular scholars who are interested in Bioethics, the 6th Edition of Beauchamp and Childress’ Principle of Biomedical Ethicslisted below is the sine qua non of the field.

The Oxford Philosophical Texts from Oxford University Press, some of which are listed below, are considered the best texts to purchase.

List of Works Consulted for both the Ethics Preface and the Applied Ethics and Human Rights Preface:

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2010.

Beauchamp, Tom L. and James F. Childress.  Principles of Biomedical Ethics6th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Boonin, David.  A Defense of Abortion. (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Public Policy.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Gazzaniga, Michael S The Ethical Brain: The Science of Our Moral DilemmasNew York: Harper Perennial, 2005.

Glick, Leonard B.  Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hare, John E. God’s Call: Moral Realism, God’s Commands, and Human Autonomy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Erdman Publishing Co., 2001.

Harris, Sam.  The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human ValuesNew York: Free Press, 2010.

Hobbes, Thomas. (1651.)  Leviathan. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962.

Hume, David. (1751.) A Treatise of Human Nature. (Oxford Philosophical Texts.) U.S.A.: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Kant, Immanuel. (1785.) Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals(Oxford Philosophical Texts.)  U.S.A. : Oxford University Press, 2003.

Kluckhorn, Clyde. “Ethical Relativity Sic et Non,” In Journal of Philosophy, LLI, 1955.

Krueger, Douglas. What Is Atheism? Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1998.

Levitt, Steven D. and Stephen J. DubnerFreakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.  NY: Harper Perennial, 2009.

Martin, Michael.  Atheism, Morality and Meaning. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2002.

Mill, John Stuart. (1863.) Utilitarianism. (Oxford Philosophical Texts.) U.S.A.: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Popper, Karl. (1945.) The Open Society and Its Enemies(Routledge Classics.) London: Routledge, 2011.

Pojman, Louis P.  EthicsDiscovering Right and Wrong. 7th ed. New York: Wadsworth Publishing, 2011.

Racine, E.  Pragmatic Neuroethics. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2010.

Rawls, John.  A Theory of Justice. (Original Edition.) Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2005.

Russell, Bertrand. Why I Am Not a Christian and Other EssaysNew York: Simon and Schuster, 1957.

Singer, Peter, ed. A Companion to Ethics Oxford, U.K.; Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A.: Wiley-Blackwell, 1991.

__________. Animal Liberation(Reissue Ed.) New York: Harper Perennial, 2009.

__________.Practical Ethics. Cambridge, U.K.; New York, U.S.A.: 1993.

Williams, Bernard. And J.J.C. Smart.  “A Critique of Utilitarianism.” In Utilitarianism: For and Against. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1973.