‘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 how humanists use a range of ethical principles to help them solve moral dilemmas. For resources about the Golden Rule see Do humanists have rules to follow?
How do humanists deal with moral dilemmas?
Suitable for: 11-14, 14-16
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
How do humanists deal with moral dilemmas?Download
Moral dilemmasA 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
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
A short film in which author, Philip Pullman, explains why he believes morality and our conscience evolved naturally.
Do human beings have shared values? Explore how humanists believe the origins of morality lie inside human beings.Download
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
Enlighten Up: A film about rules and consequences - should you tell your friend you don't like their haircut?
Right & Wrong: The life you can save
The life you can save: An animation from the BBC on humanist philosopher Peter Singer and our obligations to reduce suffering
The Harm Principle
The Harm Principle: A BBC animation on John Stuart Mill and the limits of our freedom
The Is/Ought Problem
The Is/Ought Problem: A BBC animation on whether we can derive moral values from facts about the world
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.
The Starfish Story
Written by humanist Loren Eiseley, this video illustrates the humanist view that we can all contribute to improving the quality of other people's lives.
Trolley Problem: A BBC animation on the classic moral dilemma
Veil of Ignorance
Veil of Ignorance: A BBC animation about John Rawls’ thought experiment. This way of approaching questions about what kind of world we should live in is supported by many humanists.