Exploring Ethics, the field that deals with defining what is good and bad, and the moral obligations that ensue.
ethics. From the Greek ethos for character, disposition, values.
moral. From the Latin moralis for custom, habit, way of life, conduct.
It is important to know these words thoroughly because they have many connotations and many an argument can go awry by simple miscommunication. Many people say that ethics and morals are synonyms and for general usage they are. However if I am going to get deep into the subject, then I might as well use the words more precisely.
Ethic (n.), ethics (n.), ethical (adj.), ethically (adv.), ethicalness (n.), and ethicality (n.). Ethics may be the a set of principles, or a study, or a system, or a theory that deal with the values, the ideas of good and bad conduct.
Unethical (adj.) will refer to values contrary to ethical values.
Morality (n.), morals (n.), moral (n. & adj.), morally (adv.) will refer to behavior based upon ethics.
Immoral (adj.) and immorally (adv.) will refer to behavior contrary to moral behavior.
Amoral (adj.), amorally (adv.), amorality (n.), and amoralism (n.) will refer to behavior that is not based upon or related to ethics.
Morality (n.) is a loose word that refers to a sense of proper (good) behavioral conduct.
A Moral Code (n.) is a system of morality. A moral code may come from religion, philosophy, culture, personal experience, etc.
A moral (n.) is a practice or teaching within a moral code, in the sense of "... and the moral of the story is...".
Good (adj.). Proper, positive, desirable, maximizing its nature, high quality, complete, leading to imperfection, etc.
Bad (adj.). Improper, negative, unfavorable, not true to its nature, low quality, incomplete, leading to imperfection, etc.
It is impossible to escape the flexibility and ambiguity of these terms in the English language but we'll have to make do. These distinctions should be pointed out:
The terms unethical and immoral are imprecise.
EG: Choosing to wear brown or blue is not an immoral decision, rather it is an amoral decision.
EG: It is not precise to say that Hitler had an unethical system of ethics, rather he had a bad system of ethics.
I will use variations of the word "ethics" more for the ideas and the word "moral" more for the behavior.
EG: Confucianism is a pragmatic system focused on moral behavior than the ethical reasoning.
EG: Kant's system of universal imperatives is more focused on ethical judgments than the moral behavior.
It is traditional and more poetic to say "the moral of the story is...", but the anal would say "the lesson of the story is...".
Every one is an ethicist. A person who unknowingly performs good or bad deeds is not truly responsible for those deeds. Similarly, a person who performs good or bad deeds is responsible for those deeds. EG:
If I unknowingly disarm a madman's bomb, then I am no hero.
If I unknowingly arm a madman's bomb, then I am no villain.
If I knowingly disarm a madman's bomb, then I am a hero.
If I knowingly arm a madman's bomb, then I am a villain.
That is pretty clear; however ethics is really for dealing with more complicated issues. EG:
Am I required to risk life and/or limb to save another life? two lives? 10 lives? a thousand lives?
Who has the right to live on a patch of land?
What retribution is due for sins performed by the generation before?
The Truth is an elusive animal and the most dangerous individuals are those who think they have grasped the Truth by its tail.
Unsorted notes related to ethics.
Here are some of my requirements for an ethical personal philosophy:
It should be non-partisan and independent of the following: Religion. Race. Sex. Age. Geography. History. Culture. Money. Technology. Species.
It should be concise and elegant.
It should be able to handle complex and changing problems.
It should satisfy reason and intuition.
Discuss various ethical systems (utilitarianism, duty, rights, virtue, etc.)
The first (Universal Law formulation): "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."
The second (Humanity or End in Itself formulation): "Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end."
The third (Kingdom of Ends formulation) combines the two: "All maxims as proceeding from our own [hypothetical] making of law ought to harmonise with a possible kingdom of ends." '
The Enquiring Murderer
The "inevitable" immorality of extracting man from feelings, tradition, faith, mores, etc in favor of reason, nihilism, rationalism. EGs: French Revolution, Napoleon, Communism, Rope. The essential result is "virtuous violence", i.e. terrorism; the rationalization and justification of evil.
Links that lead to off-site pages about Ethics and Morals.
Virtue. Moral excellence. Frequently used in normative ethics. The Virtue article has more than just the 7 virtues.
Seven virtues. There are variants of this but the 4 cardinal virtues (from the Ancient Greeks) and the 3 theological virtues (largely Christian in twist) are fairly consistent and quite distinct from the 7 "heavenly virtues", which are the opposite of Dante's variation of the the 7 deadly sins. (In Confucianism, the 3 primary virtues are Love, Prudence, and Courage.)
Prudence. Prudentia (Latin). Phronesis (Greek). The auriga virtutum or the charioteer of the virtues.
Arete. Arete is Greek for goodness and excellence of any kind, not just moral excellence. There is also an association of arete with physical excellence, which ties in to the Latin virtus (manliness) and vir (man).
Vice and Sin. A vice is the opposite of a virtue. A sin is a violation of a moral rule.
Some largely Christian sins:
Seven deadly sins. Aka seven deadly vices. Variants, but Dante's is the most prevalent. Useful for contemplating virtues.
Eternal sin. Unforgiveable sins for which there is no salvation. Related to Apostasy, religious disaffiliation, abandonment, or renunciation.
Mortal sin. Forgiveable sins, but if not forgiven send one to Hell.
Venial sin. Forgiveable sins that do not send one to Hell.
Original sin. A inheritied state of sin from the "Fall of Man", i.e. Adam and Eve getting cast out of Eden. The severity of original sin varies by sect.