What Should We Do?

Ethics and Politics in a Secular Age

This copyright material may not be reproduced without permission. It is a draft of the contents and preface of the book I am working on at present.

If you would like to read and comment on a draft of the early chapters please contact me through the feedback page.

Parts II & III may have to be relegated to a separate book, given the length of the drafts of the rest of the book!


Who the Book is for and What it is About

This is a book primarily for the general reader without a background in the study of philosophy who would like to assess their way of life and make better moral decisions. It is not designed as a textbook for students on a formal course in Philosophy.

The two stages of life at which people are particularly likely to wish to review their way of life are early on when career choices have to be made, and on retirement. This book has been written particularly with these younger and older groups in mind. I hope that young people setting out in life and considering what they should do with it will find this book useful. Retirement is a great opportunity not only to evaluate what has gone before, but to look forward to new activities and adopt new perspectives.

However, in a rapidly changing economy, redundancies and bankruptcies increasingly often force us to review choices we have made and to make some changes to priorities in the light of experience. Return to the labour market after a full or partial withdrawal to care for children or other relatives is another point at which such a review might be required. In all these cases, I hope this book will be useful

 The assumption is that readers are open-minded, lack any firm religious commitment, and wish to work issues out for themselves, rather than be given cut and dried answers.

The subject of the book is to consider what it means to behave ethically, whether and why we should do so, how best to make moral decisions, and the implications of this for personal and political life.

The object of this book is to help ordinary people to assess their way of life and their relationships with the social and political world. Accordingly it advances an argument about the role of ethical thinking in contemporary democratic, capitalist and secular society rather than surveying, in a neutral fashion, everything that has been written on the subject. Although this book covers much ground which has been staple fare for philosophy and politics courses for over two thousand years it is not intended to directly introduce the literature of ethics and political philosophy, but to introduce some ideas which may help the reader to answer for themselves some practical questions about how we should live.

In conventional texts on ethics there is a tendency to present moral theories as a series of competing and incompatible perspectives (utilitarian, Kantian, virtue-based, contractual etc.). There is a danger this leads to a feeling of helpless confusion on the part of the reader. Instead I have looked for positive ideas from different schools of thought and sought to integrate them in a usable synthesis and, in the later chapters, apply them to specific moral problems of direct interest to the reader.

As an academic, the author was usually careful to present a balanced argument and leave students and readers to draw their own conclusions. In this book I have tried to come 'off the fence' and make up my own mind on these ethical issues, whilst encouraging readers to consider for themselves whether they agree. The book retraces an intellectual journey which the author has taken in retirement with the hope that it will be helpful not only to other old fogies, but also to younger people who perhaps have more scope to change the direction of their lives.

How the Book is Organised

Part 1 looks at the foundations of individual moral action.

Part 2 applies moral ideas to the choices we make in our private lives, as consumers and in our leisure time.

Part 3 considers the choices we make about the way we earn a living.

Part 4 is concerned with the morality of political action and briefly considers the interaction between morals and politics.

Part 5, in conclusion, asks how far life styles may legitimately reflect subjective preferences and be made more satisfying for individuals.

Case studies are to be found in boxes throughout the text. They should be found useful to clarify individual thought or for group discussion. Further comments on these may be found on my website www.stansey.com.

In other boxes throughout the text will be found quotations, mainly from classic philosophical works which encapsulate some helpful insights of their authors.

For those who would like to do some further, more academic reading, I have included references to the sources I have used and an appendix with recommendations for further reading and study.



Part I The Basis of Ethics

Chapter 1 Introduction

The Relevance of Ethics

What is an Ethical Problem?

A Secular Approach

The Role of Logic, Science and Common Sense

Chapter 2 What is the Good?

The Good Life or Being Good?

The Meaning of Happiness

Why Should We Be Good?

What Is The Good Life?

My Good Life versus Yours?

Chapter 3 Basic Ethical Concepts



Purposes in Life

Self Development: Virtues

Relationships with People

Relationships with Animals and the Planet

Part 1 Summary & Conclusion

Part II Private Life

Chapter 4 The Cycle of Life and Death

Loving / Sex



Illness & Disability

Death & Dying

Chapter 5 Living in the Twenty-first Century



Where To Live

Saving and Investment



Part III Working Life

Chapter 6 Making A Living

The Choice of Work

Ethics and the Choice of Work

Ethics in Organisations

Business Practices versus Private Values [Bankers' Bonuses, Green v. Capitalist etc.]

Chapter 7 Work / Life Balance

Work / Life Balance


Not Working


Part IV Public Life

Chapter 8 Ethics & Democracy

What is Politics?

Ethics, Interests and Politics

Democracy and Compromise


Localism, Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism

Democratic Rights and Duties

Chapter 9 Public Policies

Social Justice



Freedom and Equality

Chapter 10 Ethics for Politicians

Part V Ethics and Lifestyle Choices

Chapter 11 How Many Kinds of Good Life Are There?

Lifestyle Choices

Happiness Reconsidered



Schools of Ethical Thinking

Politics News

7 Articles

A Turkish Edition of Politics the Basics (5th. ed.) is to be published by Utopya Yayinevi.

A Portuguese translation of Politics: the Basics has now been published in Brazil as Polίtica, Editora Saraiva, Sao Paulo, 1st Brazilian ed., 2016.


The Fifth Edition of Politics: the Basics was published by Routledge in September  2014.

Nigel has updated the book and has made some interesting innovations.

If you run a class which might use the book, let us know using the feedback button on this site and we will arrange to send you a free inspection copy.

The fourth edition of Politics: the Basics has been published in  Arabic by the Arab Network for Publishing and Research based in Beirut, Lebanon.

Politics: The Basics, 4th Edition is to be translated by Jiangsu People's Publishing Ltd into Chinese (simplified) for distribution in Mainland China.
Conservative MP Steve Baker puts Politics: the Basics first on his recommended reading list for newcomers to the Conservative Candidates List.

"Politics, Political Theory, Political Philosophy" Thinking Philosophy (U3A Philosophy Network), Summer 2010, 11-14

U3A Philosophy Group News

One Article

Details of U3A Poole Philosophy Workshop classes in the summer and in early autumn are now on the site. The schedule is subject to amendment and has been revised since first posted. Please check on this site to ensure you have the latest version.

Unfortunately there will be no more classes led by Jayne because of her move to Kent.