May meeting report: Morals without a god

aquinasHow do we formulate a moral system when we do not have a god to tell us what to do? Are any truths self evident?. How do our ideas on morality have any authority?

Dr James Wakefield tackled these and other questions in a wide ranging and informative talk. He explained three main ways of thinking about moral systems.

The first, ‘Natural Law’ is based on the idea that objective and unchanging facts are out there for us to discover, and that these laws would exist even when they are unrecognised. This way of thinking presupposes the goodness of human nature.bentham

Another way of approaching morality is ‘Utilitarianism’, which supposes that an ideal morality is one which produces the greatest amount of happiness. There must be a reason for us to do what morality requires, and possibly not everyone wants to be happy. Why ought we to promote happiness? Maybe this is not a moral system at all, but merely a theory about happiness.

korsgaardFinally ‘Constructivism’, where our moral rules are not objective but are constructed. This system draws its reasons from the desires, interests, beliefs and values we already have. We should act according to the best reasons we can come up with. This could collapse into moral relativism where truth becomes a matter of opinion.

There are defenders of all three theories today. Dr Wakefield claims it is uniquely human to stand back and look at moral considerations. He would put himself into the constructivist camp.

This talk stimulated much interest and a lot of questions amongst the capacity audience. We shall take up a related topic in September, and no doubt these views will inform our discussion.

Simon Nightingale: Radio Shropshire talk on innate morality

Simon_NightingaleSimon Nightingale writes: My humanist “Pause for Thought” homily on Radio Shropshire this morning was on innate morality, which leads into a discussion on liberal and conservative (philosophical, not political) differences. This is described better and at length by John Haidt in his TED lecture:

In the USA the liberal/conservative divide is greater than in Europe and, of course, both Democrats and Republicans are well to the right of mainstream European parties.

My final implicit message today was to discourage listeners from voting for extreme parties, but instead to concentrate on the shared moral basis of society. Then later this morning, I walked with others around parts of Shrewsbury, delivering a newsletter from the “HOPE NOT HATE” organisation. More about that at

If you wish to hear my “Pause for Thought”, go to and listen on the time line between 1:18.00 and 1.23.00. It is only available for the next week.


15 May meeting: James Wakefield on ethics without a god

AIbEiAIAAABECPq_87rl2uPT5wEiC3ZjYXJkX3Bob3RvKig3NmEyYWMyMDc1MjM5MDZhMjljMjlmODlkMWQ0MDRlZGUyMzlhMzBmMAGAKlqoK5HDwgafmPmrh-abjBpEbwOur May meeting will be on Thursday 15 May at 7.30 pm at The Lantern, Meadow Farm Drive, Shrewsbury SY1 4NG. All are welcome. Please see the Meetings and Events page for more details about our programme and attending.

Dr James Wakefield will talk about Ethics from the Inside Out: Moral Philosophy since the Death of God.

“How can there be any moral authority in the absence of a divine legislator? If there are no moral rules “written on the sky,” as it were, is morality just a matter of opinion? Of course, I think — and this is probably in line with the Humanist view — that we can still make morally authoritative claims, but the source of this authority is within humanity, not some external, mysterious legislator.”

James Wakefield recently completed a PhD at Cardiff University. His thesis examined the moral theory of the Sicilian philosopher Giovanni Gentile, and is due to be published in 2015 by Imprint Academic. Dr Wakefield is now an Honorary Research Fellow at that same university, and is working with Prof. Bruce Haddock on another book about moral and political philosophy.

What makes something right or wrong?

Meetings for Spring 2014

library-lanternWe now have the programme for early 2014 online on the Meetings and Events page.

This is still subject to possible change, but we will have a bereavement counsellor talking about how he coped with the death of his wife and about bereavement counselling for those without religious belief, and we will also have a professional philosopher talking on how we can have the basis for morality without God.

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