Morality and Ethics: an Introduction

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Morality and ethics are terms often used as if they have the same meaning. At other times, they are used as if they have no relationship to one another. I think most people realize ethics and morality have something to do with the concepts of good and bad. However, English is not like French, which has the Acadàmie Fran�aises acting as its linguistic jury - establishing what is proper French. English changes at the whim of the populous. One can bomb (especially in stand-up comedy), and that's bad, but if one is the bomb (e.g., "Gee, you're swell!"), that's good.

The word "morality" has been co-opted by groups, such as the Moral Majority, making us think morality only deals with acts these religious groups think aren't proper, or are therefore immoral. If you ask people to define "immoral," generally they will give an answer that has to do with sex.

The meanings of the terms "ethics" and "morality" can be differentiated based on their origins in ancient Greek and Latin, respectively. We know that the foundations of Western philosophy came from the ancient Greeks. Thus, if one were to use a single term to describe the Greeks, it would be "philosophers."

On the other hand, the ancient Romans developed many of the techniques used in architecture, so much of their work still stands. Hence, one might describe the Romans as builders. As a result, words that come into the English language from the Greeks often have meanings that are primarily philosophical study, while the Latin-derived words imply "doing the thing."

Ethics comes from the Greek word ethos - moral character or custom. Morality comes from the Latin word moralis - custom or manner. The words both deal with the customs or the manner in which people do things. Their modern meanings relate to the way people act - either good or bad.

Morality, strictly speaking, is used to refer to what we would call moral conduct or standards. Morality is looking at how good or bad our conduct is, and our...
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