Philosophy of Religion

Chapter  9: Religion, Morality and Ethics

Section 6 Morality and Reason

Philosophers from Plato to the present day have sought for a ground for ethics that would serve as a basis for morality. As belief in the gods or single deity was not based upon reason and the tales of the gods or single deity had a number of irrational elements philosophers have sought for a more reliable and stable basis for morality. What is needed is a foundation for morality that is rational, universal and capable of long term use and even of modifications across time. Philosophers have developed a number of ethical principles to serve as the basis for ethical traditions that would provide the basis for morality.  They include:

Philosophical Tradition

Principle of the GOOD without reference to a deity


Categorical Imperative-Immanuel Kant

Universalizable maxims

Utilitarian Principles-James Mill, John Stuart and Jeremy Bentham

Greatest happiness for the greatest number

Prima Facie Duties- W.D. Ross

Basic duties

Principle of Justice as Fairness- John Rawls

Maxi/ Min=maximize freedom/minimize differences

What they have in common is that each has a basic principle which is used to develop moral rules and which serve as the basis for moral judgments. Each has a principle of the GOOD. None of the traditions is without faults and none has become the basis for human conduct used the world over- at least not yet.

In the postmodern period some (maybe most) philosophers have abandoned the attempt to find universal principles and have argued for relativity of values and a values approach to ethical theory. There are a number of ethical theories that hold for one form of relativity or another. These movements include: Existentialism, Pragmatism, Feminism.

Which approach to moral decision making commends itself as more capable of meeting the needs of individuals and societies: through religion or a non-religious and secular morality?

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Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2001. All Rights reserved.

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