| Thinking hard, or|
|Major trains of thought|
|The good, the bad|
and the brain fart
|Come to think of it|
Ethics is the branch of philosophy that explores and lays out the proper way to live. Most ethics are concerned with how people should treat each other. The most generally agreed upon statement of ethics is some variation of "Treat others like you'd like to be treated." Beyond this, however, ethical systems can differ sharply, depending on other axioms. For instance, from a secularist perspective it's necessary that the government doesn't privilege the expression of a particular variety of religious belief, because that unjustly excludes a portion of the population from full participation in public life on grounds that are arbitrary. However, from certain fundamentalist perspectives, such forcible imposition of ideas may be permissible, or even necessary, to avoid the government giving support to immorality and thus putting citizens in risk of going to Hell. Ethics is often divided into normative ethics, meta-ethics, and descriptive ethics.
 Normative ethics
Normative ethics is the field of ethics that explores what humans morally ought to do. Most normative ethical theories belong to either the Deontological or Consequentialist families. Deontological theories emphasize duty to a moral code, while Consequentialist theories emphasize good consequences. Deontological philosophies include Divine command theory (very popular among the religious), Kant's categorical imperative and Social contractarian ethics (popular among secularists). Consequentialist theories include Utilitarianism (the philosophy of choice for many Humanists) and Ethical egoism (the source of Ayn Rand's Objectivism).
 Descriptive ethics
Descriptive ethics is the study of moral development in humans, such as Auguste Comte's study of the morality over history. Descriptive ethics does not seek to pronounce on what is right or wrong, merely to describe what people think is right or wrong, and to investigate how ethical beliefs vary across time and space.
 Applied Ethics
Applied ethics is the branch of ethics which seeks to apply basic ethical principles (from normative ethics) to concrete situations, especially to controversial social issues such as abortion, animal rights, euthanasia, homosexuality, poverty, the environment, etc. However, given the lack of agreement on normative ethics, it is unsurprising that different normative ethical theories produce different results when we seek to apply them to concrete situations.
 Ethics without Religion
Fundamentalist Christians often claim that ethics are bunk without The One And Only True God as a starting point from which right and wrong can be derived. However, these claims seem implausible in the face of descriptive ethical studies, as there are several ethical theories which derive "good" from other things. Such theories, known as Secular Ethics and praised by people as diverse as Richard Dawkins and the Dalai Lama, pose a serious challenge to claims that only religiously motivated individuals can behave well. The social contract, utilitarianism/prioritarianism, Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative, ethical egoism and altruism, and moral intuition are sufficient motivational substitutes for divine command. Many secular ethical theories go along very well with Secular Humanism, a much broader philosophy.