Ethics (age 11-14)

‘Why should I consider others?… Myself, I think the only possible answer is the humanist one – because we are naturally social beings; we live in communities; and life in any community, from the family outwards, is much happier, and fuller, and richer if the members are friendly and co-operative than if they are hostile and resentful.’

Margaret Knight, humanist and psychologist (1903 – 1983)

How do humanists make decisions about what is right and wrong? What motivations do they have to be good? Is it possible to be good without the belief in a god or gods? Find out why humanists place human welfare at the centre of their ethical decision making and how they believe our natural capacity for reason and empathy can help us decide how to act.

Here you can find resources about why humanists believe we should consider the consequences when we act, not just whether we are following rules, and how humanists use a range of ethical principles to help them solve moral dilemmas. For resources why humanists are motivated to be good see Why should I be good?

Do humanists have rules to follow?
Suitable for: 11-14, 7-11

Lesson Plans

Do humanists have rules to follow?

In this lesson students will evaluate whether some rules are more important than others and use moral dilemmas to explore whether rules always help. They will learn how humanists believe rules can often be helpful, but that we should also always think about the consequences of our behaviour when deciding how to act. They will go on to learn how many humanists follow the Golden Rule (treat others as you would like to be treated yourself), explore why humanists think this rule is so common because it evolved naturally alongside our capacity to reason and empathise, and investigate, though writing a letter, how humanists might respond to criticisms of the Golden Rule. Download

Presentations

Do humanists have rules to follow?

Download

Activities

Rules

Can students say where these rules have come from and order them according to how important they are? Download

Lying dilemma

Is lying always wrong? A dilemma to get students to explore whether we should take rules or consequences into account when we act. Download

The Golden Rule

A student handout on the Golden Rule, including examples from around the world and a map on which to locate them. Download

Golden Rule letter

Can students write a reply to a letter from a child who has used the golden rule inappropriately and see how using the Golden Rule means taking other people's tastes and preferences into account? Download

Humanist responses: rules

Can students fill in the speech bubbles with humanist responses to statements and questions about rules? Download

Ten non-commandments

Two examples of humanist guidance for living a good life to use as stimuli to inspire students to write their own. Download

Films

What makes something right or wrong?

(Age 11+) A short animation about how humanists make decisions about how to act, and why they believe we should be proud that morality is a human invention. Watch

Human nature

(Age 7+) A short film in which author Philip Pullman explains why he believes morality and our conscience evolved naturally. Watch

Humanist Perspectives

Ethics

Why should we be good to others? How can I know the difference between right and wrong? Download

Ethics: The Golden Rule

What is the Golden Rule and where do humanists think it came from? Download

How do humanists deal with moral dilemmas?
Suitable for: 11-14, 14-16

Lesson Plans

How do humanists deal with moral dilemmas?

In this lesson students will investigate how humanists decide what is the right thing to do by thinking carefully about the particular situation and using empathy and reason to guide them. They will explore the different ethical principles a humanist might use, then debate and decide for themselves which principles should take preference in different moral dilemmas. They will use what they have learned to critique and evaluate a humanist approach to ethical decision making. Download

Presentations

How do humanists deal with moral dilemmas?

Download

Activities

Moral dilemmas

A group activity featuring a series of moral dilemmas which allow students to explore how humanists approach moral problems using a range of ethical principles. Download

Films

What makes something right or wrong?

(Age 11+) A short animation about how humanists make decisions about how to act, and why they believe we should be proud that morality is a human invention. Watch

Human nature

(Age 7+) A short film in which author Philip Pullman explains why he believes morality and our conscience evolved naturally. Watch

Humanist Perspectives

Ethics

Why should we be good to others? How can I know the difference between right and wrong? Download

Ethics: The evolution of morality

Where does our morality come from? Is it set in stone or a work in progress? Download

Other Resources

Human Nature

A short film in which author, Philip Pullman, explains why he believes morality and our conscience evolved naturally.  

Shared Values

Do human beings have shared values? Explore how humanists believe the origins of morality lie inside human beings.

Download

Humanist Perspectives

Ethics

Why should we be good to others? How can I know the difference between right and wrong?

Download

Ethics: The Golden Rule

What is the Golden Rule and where do humanists think it came from?

Download

Ethics: The evolution of morality

Where does our morality come from? Is it set in stone or a work in progress?

Download

External Resources

Enlighten Up

Enlighten Up: A film about rules and consequences - should you tell your friend you don't like their haircut?

The life you can save

A three minute animation presenting humanist philosopher Peter Singer's motivation to do more to reduce suffering around the world.

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