Many atheists support the notion of morality based upon what is teleological ethics. The end or outcome or the goal is the point. It is the achieved goal tha makes an action moral. The prime exmaple of this form of ethics is Utilitarianism; life is a trade off of pursuit of pleaure and avoidence of pain. the highest goal to which one can aspire morally is to aid othes avoidence of pain.
Of course who could forget that gem of the Utilitarian hit parade, "the grestest good for the geraest number."My view is represented by the deontological school of ethics. to be more prescise, rule deontology is my bag.
The basic concept here is that morality is grounded in duty and obligation. Rule deonology says that all rules must be observed from a standard of following duty and promoting obligation, and keeping these rules determines the morality of a given standard.
Deontology is unfairly criticized as blind rule keeping is often confussed with empty legalism. Quite the conrrary, I think I'm very unlegalistic type of person. Rather than insiting up rule keeping at, my level of ethical standard is one in wich the attempt to fulfill duty or keep an obligation is enough to make an action ethical, so that the agent need not even succeed at keeping the rule.
If I said that actions must confrom of rule keeping I would be a "act deontologist."
On the other hand the notion that actions are judged by their outcomes is "act utilitarianism." Whereas the idea that general percipoles shoudl foster outcomes such that pleasure over pain is promoted is called "rule utilitiarianism." Act utilitairainism is often noted for producing extremes.
Teleological or consquential ethics (HRG's bag) is well know among liberals. It's the brand of ethics most often embraced by liberals and humanitsts (which doesn't mean that I'mn not a liberal and humanist--although Christian humanist).
Even though most liberals tend to embrace teleological ethics, most ethecists do not. Teleological ethics fell into disvaor in the 30s, and has been on the decline every since. IN the 1960s it was considered that John Rawls of Oxford drove the final nail in the coffin when he proved that teleological ethics reduces the indivudal to a faceless aggregat at the bottom of a business ledger.
That would be the key to my attack upon consquentialist ethics, it does not take account of the fine feeling of the indiviual to keep his/her sense of duty of obligation, but urges the indiviudal to do immoral acts and to betreay his or her own personal sense of the moral in order to fulfill some aggreagate sum such as "greatest good for the greatest number."
this can be demonstrated in most life theory games, where one is led to believe that the old lady and the presit must be chucked over the side they can't row as fast.