Several years ago, I lost my faith. I rejected the mild-mannered Methodism I grew up with. And until this time, I had simply assumed that right and wrong lay solidly within the purview of the church. It was God who somehow determined what was good and evil.
Having rejected religious belief, I felt compelled to explore the issue of morality more deeply. I had no ready defense, let alone definition, of moral behavior. This was disturbing to me, not because I felt suddenly uninhibited and in danger of slipping into debauchery and violence, but because I felt that the cavalier adoption of popular notions of morality was not good enough. My worldview needed to be well grounded and logically rigorous.
Over the years that followed, I started to develop my ideas about secular ethics, investigating, deliberating, writing, and rewriting, until I eventually arrived at a viewpoint I felt was sufficiently stable to share with anyone who might be interested. This book is the product of that journey. I feel that my viewpoint is unique, principally because of my scientific background which has trained me to be practical and thorough. On the other hand I am not, to my regret, a trained philosopher, and I realize that many of the points I raise in this book have been discussed by those better trained in ethics than I.
My view on morality can be summarized reasonably accurately with the help of a little philosophical jargon. I am a moral nihilist, and this book puts forth a hedonist utilitarian moral calculus. What this means is that I see morality as a tool people have devised to guide their social interactions, and that this tool can successfully be based on a kind of cost-benefit analysis of people’s well-being. Because I emphasize the role of consent in this analysis, I call my moral system “consensual utilitarianism”.
The structure of this book is as follows. First, I offer some initial definitions (Chapter 2). I then defend what I believe to be the best goal for morality (Chapter 3) and describe a metric that can be employed in pursuit of this goal (Chapter 4). I discuss the issue of relevance, namely which people, acts, and time periods are relevant to a particular moral problem (Chapter 5), and then I develop the actual calculus of consensual utilitarianism (Chapter 6). Next, I look at the issue of consent, which I believe to be integral to morality (Chapter 7) and finally, I consider various implications of consensual utilitarianism (Chapter 8) and its application to a range of example problems (Chapters 9 and 10).
This book is not long. It does get a little technical in places, but basic mathematical skills should get you through all the tricky bits.
Thanks for sharing in my journey.
In the next chapter, I take a look at some important definitions.
Return to the table of contents.