How do atheists define good and evil?

Below is a post I wrote in response to the following question.

How do atheists define good and evil?

Atheists define good and evil differently, just like theists do. You’re probably familiar with Christians who have different beliefs about what good and evil are than you do. There are Christians who don’t think morality is based on God’s will, and even among Christians who do think morality is based on God’s will there isn’t complete agreement about what God’s will is, specifically. The situation with atheists is a lot like this – lots of different worldviews with no single set of principles between them.

Personally, I think Ayn Rand correctly defined good and evil in her essay “The Objectivist Ethics.” Ayn Rand thought that the purpose of morality was to have the best life for yourself and the people you love. This doesn’t mean exploiting other people, like Nietzsche thought it did, because the only way to become happy is to live a principled, productive life, neither sacrificing yourself to other people nor other people to yourself.

If you’re interested in looking into Ayn Rand’s own summary of her philosophy of Objectivism, you can read it at the link below:

Let me know if you have any questions.


3 thoughts on “How do atheists define good and evil?

  1. dstamps2173

    Ann Rand’s definition has a very limited view of good and evil; but Man does not exist in a Reality of which we have found its limits. Relative to any one item of interest, good would be anything that contributes to its highest purpose; and evil would be anything that reduces or prevents its highest purpose from being obtained. For any entity to achieve its highest purpose, it must view Reality relative to a purpose outside of itself of which it is a part.

    This brings us to the realization that Man is the summation of many living organisms or entities–producing some form of organization. The first unity is a single individual; but to obtain the highest level of “happiness” the individual will form relationships with other individuals. One could become a marriage. The marriage then becomes a living entity that obtains its highest level of “happiness” by serving purposes in larger relationships outside itself. The marriage relationship would eventually form a family. The family then becomes a living organism or entity also. Eventually, we have an entire world that is a living entity–in our case a very unhealthy entity. The point is that until an entity is all of Reality, it can only be a part of a larger organization in some form.

    To understand why our world, as an entity, is so unhealthy, we only have to revert back to the first unity, understand why it can be healthy, and apply those principles and truth to all higher level relationships of Man. Therefore, we must first understand the unity we are as an individual. In a more basic sense, we must understand the principles and truths determining the unity of our physical form when it is completely healthy. Since our physical form reveals a highly synergistic unity, this may appear quite difficult; but it isn’t. Our liver provides over 500 synergistic functions for the larger unity. The synergism in our physical form is probably in the area of thousands of functions contributed by individual cells functioning in unity with all others. All of this synergism is encoded in each cell.

    Therefore, for your physical body, functioning synergism is the key to health. Man is more than a physical body, though–Aspects of Man video: We have the capability to seek purposes we perceive best for us that do not contribute in unity with others–synergistically. The primary, and possibly the only, evil is Man’s self-serving nature. Each level of Man’s organization can exhibit the same evil nature. Because no matter how large an organization is, such as a country, it is usually a single individual who has the primary influence on the view of the organization.

    Unfortunately, if we have a false view of Reality, understanding it becomes impossible.

  2. derrickzander

    I think Nietzsche’s critique is a bit more nuanced than that. It’s not just that moral claims enforces in real societies involve the application of power, but that “good” and “evil” imply two kinds of different behaviors and people.

    The fact of the matter is that “good” and “evil” is heavily influenced by metaphysical religious jargon, which implies that a good person is the opposite of the evil person. Yet, even such a regime as the Third Reich thought itself to be morally superior and good, and many felt morally justified in their actions. Which is why the Existentialist criticism of Kantian Ethics is primarily on the basis that doing ethics from an “Objective” position is fundamentally nonsensical, everyone must adopt a perspective. The perspectival nature of philosophy and ethics reveals that when people talk about the “good life,” they’re always speaking from a vast array of presuppositions and biases that they themselves have about the way the world “ought” to be.

    These “oughts” are informed by cultural heritage among other things, which ultimately are societal structures in which we pursue human flourishing. Yet each of these cultural systems seeks to aggrandize the human condition as having some sort of true cosmic significance, with our heads up in the sky, even though the great thinkers which inspired such thoughts are now food for worms, as we all are destined to be.

    I’m not against the pursuit of ethics, it is a worthy quest and pragmatic one at the very least, however the path to find the ultimate “good” has left many corpses on the journey to a Utopia.


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