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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds There’s a certain way of thinking about morality which I suppose is inherited from religious systems, which consists in thinking that the way in which we ought to live our lives is in obedience to a set of rules or commands laid down for us by some higher authority, some divine authority. If we get trapped in that way of thinking about morality and moral values that can be very limiting and it can give rise to the idea that once you jettison religious belief you’re left with nothing, you’re left with no values, no sense of right or wrong, you’re left with no sense of what makes for a good human life.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 seconds So when humanists approach these questions I think it’s important to question that whole framework and to go back to the question that well what is it that makes us moral beings and what do we actually mean by moral values? To understand what morality is and why we might describe human beings as moral beings, partly of course what we need to do is look at the evolutionary origins of our moral values, they’re not something mysterious that pops up out of nowhere, we can trace what it is about human beings that gives rise to moral questions and moral dilemmas.

Skip to 1 minute and 26 seconds We can trace the idea of morality back to certain primitive features of what it means to be human beings, the fact that we’re social animals, the fact that human young need a long period of nurturing, and so a fundamental feature of human beings is that capacity to form close relationships of care and concern and love.

Skip to 1 minute and 49 seconds What those features of human beings bring with them is a deep capacity to imaginatively identify with other human beings, to respond to the needs of other human beings initially those biologically close to us, but once human beings have those capacities they’re able to extend them to be moved by the plight and the suffering of human beings who are less closely related to them, and that’s what brings with it I think then questions that we can raise for ourselves about how we need to live as social beings who crucially interact with other social beings, other human beings who depend on other human beings, who depend on crucially on our capacities for co-operation, our capacities for forging shared lives.

Skip to 2 minutes and 42 seconds Those are the features of what it is to be human that bring with them the need to think about the right way to live within a human society.

The origins of morality

Richard Norman explains what it is about our nature that gives rise to moral questions.

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This video is from the free online course:

Introducing Humanism: Non-religious Approaches to Life, with Sandi Toksvig

Humanists UK