SUMMARY: Richard Robinson, An Atheist's Values, 1964.

Richard Robinson in this well written and once popular book is clear that secular values are needed and can be justified without God and indeed should be. He did not like the term humanist but did accept being labelled as a liberal. Robinson was a true atheist and nothing in his work can be said to have smuggled in Christian values. For example, he rejects love of neighour in favour of making a choice not to make others more miserable than what they are or can be. So he is not about good directly.  He cautions that good is always flawed and has the power to go wrong.  He wants us to give ourselves the gift of living in reality not some illusion.


Part I. The Nature of the Question. 1.2: The great question, What is the good?, is an error because there is no such thing as the good (pp. 14-18). 1.3: We must ask instead, What things are good? And we must interpret this not as a search for the property of goodness (pp. 18-24), but (1.4) as an invitation to make our own choice (pp. 24-29), which (1.5) is not the same as a search for ends (pp. 29-35). 1.6: Choice can be wise or foolish (pp. 35-41). 1.7: The process of making wise choices is judgement (pp. 41-43). 1.8: All good things are harmful sometimes; yet it is worth while to make ourselves a list of goods (pp. 43-47).

Part II. Personal Goods. 2.1: The test of goodness and badness is happiness and misery (pp. 48-53). 2.2: Life is a great good (pp. 54-57). 2.31; The word 'beauty' means that which is good in its sensuous aspects (pp. 57-59). 2.32: Beauty is a great good (pp. 59-61), closely related both to art and to sex 2.33] (pp. 61-65). 2.41: Truth, which is a matter of statements (pp. 65-67), is (2.42) a great good (pp. 67-70).

2.501: Virtue is a great good, and the greatest virtue is reason (pp. 70-72). 2.502: The word 'reason' means the good employment of man's capacity to think (pp. 72-73). 2.503: Reason commands that we love truth (pp. 73-74), that (2.504) we believe or disbelieve or doubt in accordance with the balance of the reasons available (pp. 74-77), that (2.505) we seek consistency (pp. 77-80), that (2.506) we note the consequences of our beliefs (pp. 80-81), that (2.507) we distinguish between analytic and synthetic statements, pursuing certainty about the former (pp. 81-84) and (2.508) probability about the latter (pp. 84-87), that (2.509) we respect the weight of the evidence (pp. 88-94), that (2.510) we hold our views tentatively (pp. 94-96), and (2.511) submit them to criticism (pp. 96-98). 2.512: Reason is practical (pp. 98-100). 2.513: Depreciations of reason often arise from thinking that the mind is a toolbox and reason is one of the tools (pp. 100-5). 2.6: The greatest good but one is love (pp. 105-8). 2.7: Conscientiousness must be subordinated to reason and love, but it is a great good (pp. 108-13).

2.81: Religion is more of an evil than a good because it is gravely inimical to truth and reason (pp. 113-18). 2.82: Faith is a vice (pp. 118-23). 2.83: There is no god or afterlife (pp. 123-30). 2.84: Religion provides no good reason for behaving morally (pp. 130-3) and (2.85) is not the only cause which in fact makes people behave morally when they do (pp. 133-40). 2.86: To discover what the Christian values are is a matter for study and interpretation (pp. 140-9). 2.87: The main precepts of Jesus according to the synoptic gospels were: love God, believe in Jesus, love man, be pure in heart and be humble (pp. 149-50). The first two of these are to be rejected; the third is to be accepted; the fourth and fifth are doubtful (pp. 150-5). 2.88: The human race is alone and insecure and doomed. Let us meet this situation with cheerfulness, courage, love, and the affirmation and pursuit of our ideals (pp. 155-7).

Part III. Political Goods. 3.11: Political goods are goods arising out of the existence of governments, and they are genuine goods (pp. 158-60).

3.12: The State is often regarded as a god (pp. 160-1). 3.13: But no State should be worshipped (pp. 161-8). 3.14: States are, however, moral agents (pp. 168-73).

3.21: Equality in political power is impossible, but we should approach it (pp. 173-5). 3.22: Equality before the law is impossible, but we should approach it (pp. 176-8). 3.23: Equality in wealth is a bad ideal (pp. 178-81). 3.24: Equality in dignity is profoundly good, but hardly a political matter (pp. 181-4). 3.25: The basis for equalization in dignity is equality in suffering, and therefore it should be extended to the beasts (pp. 184-7).

3.31: Freedom is a great good (pp. 188-94). 3.32: The concept of freedom is very liable to muddles (pp. 194-8).

3.41: We must not suppress the evil behaviour of other men until reasonable examination has made it very probable that trying to suppress the evil would greatly lessen human misery upon the whole (pp. 198-202). 3.42: Free speech is far more likely to produce a general spread of true opinion than is any suppression of it (pp. 203-6), because (3.43) all men are fallible (pp. 207-13). 3.44: In certain departments the limits of tolerance come sooner than liberals have been inclined to think (pp. 214-19).

3.51: There is no single right purpose of all government at all time (pp. 219-22). 3.52: There is no single right answer to the question what common enterprises a government should undertake (pp. 222-4). 3.53: But the primary ends of all States should be peace and justice (pp. 224-8).

3.61: Democracy is the constitution in which the people can at regular intervals constitutionally dismiss the governors if they so choose (pp. 228-35). 3.62: It is on the whole a great good (pp. 235-43). 3.63: Plato's argument against it fails because government is not a science (pp. 243-8). 3.64: We need to remind ourselves of our duties concerning the maintenance of democracy (pp. 248-53).

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