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Good Without God 1: Can We Be Good Without God?


Epstein, in this chapter, is trying to defend the view that we can be good without God. He fights against people who assume that goodness is not a reasonable value, without some moral law giver.

There is a brief overview of the concept of God, spotlighting the fact that people use the idea to mean a whole lot of things. That means that although many profess a belief, they are effectively in the same company as humanists, and they are good people.

Epstein also outlines the evolutionary background of ethical behavior. Kin selection, reciprocity, indirect reciprocity, network reciprocity, and group selection. Of course, ‘ought’ cannot be derived from ‘is,’ so Epstein has to say why we ought to be good. Epstein’s response is Euthypro’s dilemma. “Is that which the gods love good because they love it, or do they love it because it is good?” Epstein provides the common response as well. “. . . Goodness is in God’s very nature when he created the world, but he left us free to discover that goodness for ourselves.” Epstein responds: “This is not a response. . . It is merely the statement that goodness is what God says it is, but that God is all good, and we know that from his works.” Interesting.

So where do our ethics come from? Epstein cites Thomas Nagel, who says that there are natural attitudes that commit us to valuing our lives. He says logic commits us to universalizing our moral outrage at being slighted. If we think it’s wrong for us to be harmed, we can’t help but say it must be wrong for others to be harmed. Epstein says that the entire concept of goodness comes from human needs.

That sounds like it would need a few thousand pages of development. Are people really going to accept that goodness is based on human desires and needs? That is going to be susceptible to the accusation of subjectivity.

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