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We are discussing no small matter, but how we ought to live. —Socrates, in Plato’s Republic

(the historical derivation or origin of a word)

1. Ethics: From Greek ethos = character, custom, habitual disposition, manners of a person, community, or people.

  • Plato: one’s ethos is the character produced by habitual responses.
  • Aristotle: one’s ethos is the character produced by moral as opposed to intellectual habits.
  • Stoicism: ethos refers to that which motivates behavior or conduct.
  • Ancient rhetoric: the construction of a person’s ethos, i.e. the depiction of a character, was an important practice.
  • Contemporary English usage: ethos (n.) refers to the spirit or character of a culture, a community, or a group.

2. Morality: From Latin moralis, created or coined by Cicero (106—43 BCE) to translate the Greek term ethos.

General usage: as synonyms, hence the following pairs are typically utilized as rough equivalents or synonyms: moral/ethical, morality/ethics, moral philosophy/ethics.

Specialized usage
: contrastive terms with technical meanings (Hegel, Habermas, etc.).

  A set of standards determining the value (right/wrong, good/bad, praiseworthy/blameworthy, virtuous/vicious, etc.) of character and conduct. It expresses a basic concern, evaluative orientation, value commitment, habitual disposition, or mode of behavior. Morality, at this level, is pretheoretical, i.e. it has not yet explicitly formulated a systematic and comprehensive theory of the fundamental principles on the basis of which particular moral values (e.g. lying is wrong) are justified or derived. In other words, a theoretical account explains or describes why X (a character trait or type of conduct) is morally right or wrong, valued positively or negatively.

Individual or personal morality: Individual profession (what people say or claim) and/or practice (what people actually do) regarding:

a) What is valuable, has value, has moral worth: Examples: life, liberty, privacy, justice, honor, loyalty, honesty, tolerance, etc.

b) What ought to be done/avoided in general, or as a general rule: Examples: Always help others in great need or suffering,
Never inflict unnecessary pain, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, etc.

c) What ought to be done/avoided in particular contexts or situations: Examples: Don’t drink too much and drive, Don’t use profanity in mixed company, etc.

Group morality
Group profession and/or practices regarding A through C above. Typically more systematic or codified than individual morality, yet still not theoretical. A group is any set of individuals internal to a culture or society.

: medical ethics, academic ethics, ecological ethics, business ethics, Mafia morality, Gangsta-rap morality, etc.

3. Cultural or social morality
An ethic or morality held in common or shared by individuals and groups within a culture, society, or country. In other words, a morality characteristic of an entire society or culture as a whole.

Examples: contemporary American society, ancient Greek culture, Nazi Germany, colonial American society, Chinese culture, etc.

These three types of morality represent increasing levels of generality or inclusiveness and may therefore be accurately depicted by means of concentric circles.