Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Philosophy



First Advisor

Fritz Wenisch


In this t he sis four secular approaches to ethics which purport to either establish or lay the theoretical foundation for establishing objective ethical norms come in for a critical examination: These are: 1) the naturalism of Richard Taylor, 2) the linguistic conventionalism of John R. Searle, 3) the existentialist choice of Jean-Paul Sartre, and 4) the openly "ontological" strategy of Henry Veatch. Each of the above theories seeks to establish, explicitly or implicitly, a normative ethical requirement to respect the rights, freedom, etc. of other human beings. Using a consistent individualistic egoism as a foil, it is argued that each of the four theories considered fails, on the basis of its own initial assumptions concerning "goodness," "rightness," "obligation," the ontological status of man, etc., to turn back the challenge posed by the egoist. Each of the four theories is viewed as an unsuccessful attempt to derive a normative ethical "ought" from a factual, descriptive ''is." In the final section of the thesis the four secular ethical theories are contrasted with atheistically based theory of ethics, and it is argued that the latter has · a distinct advantage over the former with regard to the establishment of objective ethical norms. Finally, epistemological problems associated with the establishment of the foundational assumptions of all the theories are briefly commented on.



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