In this toolkit students explore the concepts which humanists use to make moral choices. They look at the ways in which these concepts can be applied to practical ethical decisions. They compare the humanist approach to ethics with their own ideas and with those of people from religious traditions they have studied.
For humanists the right thing to do is to try to live a full and happy life and help others to do the same. This is what humanists see the key value in life. Humanists argue that the only guide we have to show us how to do this is our own human nature. We have the ability to reason, i.e. work out for ourselves how to deal with difficult choices. We have the ability to empathise with others, i.e. to imagine how other people might feel.
The concept of ‘using reason’ involves three basic ideas which humanists apply in any given situation:
- Ask yourself what will be the effects of your action.
- Weigh up all the available evidence.
- Try to work out what will result in the most happiness and the least pain and suffering (Utilitarianism).
The concept of ‘using empathy’ also involves three basic ideas:
- Treat other people as you would like to be treated yourself (this is called the Golden Rule).
- Treat other people as valuable in their own right and don’t use them as a means to an end.
- Do what you would be happy to see everyone do.
The last two points are part of Kant’s Categorical Imperative.
Students are able to
- Express and justify their own views about what is right and wrong and why, with reference to humanist and other viewpoints.
- Use the concepts of reason and empathy to explain how humanists decide what is right and wrong
- Compare and contrast humanist views with a religious viewpoint.
Summary of Activities
The students explore a moral dilemma, thinking through what they would choose to do and why and investigating what humanists might choose and why. They then compare humanist views with those of a religion they have studied, using one of two options: one research and drama, exploring some practical ethical decisions; the other research and debate, exploring issues of belief and authority. (Either of these will enable students to compare and contrast humanist views with a religious viewpoint.) The students then review their initial responses to the moral dilemma in the light of their learning.
Religious Education, in particular the themes of beliefs and concepts, authority, ethics and relationships, rights and responsibilities, and global issues.
Citizenship, particularly 1.1 democracy and justice, 1.2 rights and responsibilities, 1.3 identities and diversity, 2.1 critical thinking and enquiry, 2.2 advocacy and representation, 3d freedom of speech, 3e actions of individuals, groups, and organizations, and 3f strategies for handling disagreements.
English, opportunities for speaking and listening, reading, and writing.
PSHEE, particularly 1.4 relationships, and 1.5 diversity.
Cross-curriculum dimensions of identity and cultural diversity and creativity and critical thinking.