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Toolkit 3 Teaching Notes

How should we treat other people and why?


The aim of this toolkit is to explore the ways in which humanists make moral decisions.  It focuses on two key ideas:  the Golden Rule and the use of reason.  Humanists say that our ability to reflect on issues of right and wrong comes from our own human nature.  We have the ability to empathise with others.  We can imagine ourselves in another person’s place and think about how we would feel.  We can see that everyone would want to be treated well by others and therefore we should treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated (the ‘Golden Rule‘).  As humans we also have the ability to reason.  We can work out from the available evidence the likely consequences of an action, the harm or good which is likely to result from it.  Humanists say that on this basis we can judge how far an action is right or wrong.

Humanists say that our moral values have developed along with our evolution as social animals.  Our values are based on our common human need to live together harmoniously in groups.  We need the kind of rules and behaviour that enable social groups to work well.

Humanists argue that our shared human nature and needs explain the considerable agreement among religions and societies about what is ethical.  They believe that the Golden Rule is so widespread across the world and in most religions and philosophies because it is based on our common humanity – we all want to be treated well and we all need to live together harmoniously.

The first two activities in this toolkit give a scenario with an ethical dilemma and summarise humanist ethics in relation to it.  The third explores the Golden Rule and compares humanist ethics with some religions and other philosophies.  The fourth gives examples of how humanists apply their ethical views in practice.

Learning Objectives

Pupils are able to

  • Understand two key concepts that humanists use to make moral decisions
  • Compare some religious views and humanist views about ethics
  • Explain their own views on how we should treat others and compare their own ideas with those of humanists.

Summary of Activities

The pupils reflect on an ethical dilemma.  They think about their options and debate what they would do in this situation using a ‘traffic light’ discussion.  Pupils then investigate, using video clips, what humanists might do in this situation and why, and imagine the next scene with a humanist in their place.  The pupils explore, using information on screen and their own research, how far some religions and philosophies share humanist views of ethics and why.  They record their research on a writing frame.  The pupils then revisit the initial ethical dilemma, thinking about what they would now choose to do in that situation and comparing their ideas with those of humanists.  The pupils evaluate the ideas they have studied, using challenging questions and exploring them through drama, discussion, or extended writing.

Curriculum Links


Humanism for Schools

Humanism is a non-religious approach to life, which the 2013 national framework for RE in England recommends be studied in schools as an example of a 'non-religious worldview'.

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