Introduction to Ethics
Enlightenment; Can Mankind Live a Moral and Ethical Life Without Religion The inspiration for my essay topic comes from a myriad of sources, and is in no way meant as an attack on religion. My main inspiration was a result of my contemplation over the short story “Letters from the Earth” written by Mark Twain. The story revolves around mankind’s hypocritical views on religion, faith, and prayer as viewed through the eyes of Satan. Due to his unfortunate death, in 1910, and the highly controversial nature of its content Twain’s story remained unpublished for 20 years. In this paper I will use this inspiration in an attempt to answer three questions: Would man revert back to his former state of savagery without moral guidance? If he did, would he then learn to redevelop a set of morals to live by? If this were possible, could it happen without religion as a guide with which to gauge moral values against? In recent years I have been forced to reexamine my standpoint in regards to religion on numerous occasions. Yet while writing this paper, I found that in some instances, that I was forced to redefine my personal views on the subject of religion still further. To answer the questions set forth in my thesis would require that a great many things, too many to list, would need to be taken into consideration first. If some sort of calamity were to befall mankind in such a way as to erase his history, as the saying goes, would history stand to repeats itself? I believe that the short answer is yes. I think that it is possible that man, if given enough time, would develop a set of morals and ethical standards with which to live by. I firmly believe that this would take place if for no other reason than the fact that it would benefit society. I also believe that this would be possible even if religion were not a factor in its development. However, this is only one person’s opinion on the subject. As there are many different opinions regarding this matter, the resources for my research were numerous to say the least. Apposing viewpoints that mankind would naturally develop a set of moral and ethical standards, with which to live by, might be presented by some western religions. Religions of the Abrahamic faith, in particular, would totally reject the notion that humanity has the ability to develop moral and ethical standards without the influence of God or religion. And instead hold to the belief that morality, as well as ethical behavior, is divinely inspired. This line of thought can only lead to the conclusion that ethics and morality are inseparable from God and religion. In response to this I would simply refer you to the noted Albert Einstein who held the belief that humans, not gods, define morality. and is clearly evident in this excerpt from his book first published in 1979 aptly titled “The Human Side” in which he states:
“The religious feeling engendered by experiencing the logical comprehensibility of profound interrelations is of a somewhat different sort from the feeling that one usually calls religious. It is more a feeling of awe at the scheme that is manifested in the material universe. It does not lead us to take the step of fashioning a god-like being in our own image - a personage who makes demands of us and who takes an interest in us as individuals. There is in this neither a will nor a goal, nor a must, but only sheer being. For this reason, people of our type see in morality a purely human matter, albeit the most important in the human sphere.”
One thing in particular that I discovered while collecting my research material was the fact that when placed side by side there were a far greater number of people who believed that, as individuals, religion as we know it is not a necessity for mankind’s development of moral and ethical values. That being said, it stands to reason that if this is the overwhelming...