9

ETHICS, RELIGION AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

In this final chapter we arrive at topics which many people expect philosophy, and moral philosophy in particular, to be specially concerned with, namely God, good and evil and the meaning of life. Before considering these topics directly, however, a general summary of the argument that has brought us to this point may be useful.


THE ARGUMENT SO FAR

One way of approaching some central questions of ethics is to ask: 'What is the best sort of life a human being can live?' The first answer we considered was that given by the egoist: the best life is one in which you get what you want. There are a variety of objections to this answer, but the most important is this. Egoism supposes that our wants and desires are in some sense 'there' waiting to be satisfied, whereas the truth is that we are often uncertain about what to want. We can intelligibly ask not merely about what we do want out of life, but about what we ought to want. This question, however, egoism cannot answer. It follows that egoism is inadequate as a guide to good living. Though it tells us what to do, given preexistent desires, it cannot help us critically form those desires.

The second candidate considered was hedonism, the view that the good life is the life of pleasure. Hedonism goes one stage further than egoism since it recommends not merely the pursuit of desires in general, but a certain spe-

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Eight Theories of Ethics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface viii
  • A Note on Further Reading x
  • 1 - Ethics, Truth and Reason 1
  • 2 - Egoism 17
  • 3 - Hedonism 39
  • 4 - Naturalism and Virtue Theory 53
  • 5 - Existentialism 71
  • 6 - Kantianism 98
  • 7 - Utilitarianism 128
  • 8 - Contractualism 162
  • 9 - Ethics, Religion and the Meaning of Life 176
  • Bibliography 207
  • Index 211
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