Ethics: The Problem of Morality

A Few Basic Terms

WHEREVER human beings live there are problems of conduct, decisions to be made, and right and wrong ways of acting. If there is to be any orderly social life men must have agreements, understandings, or what the sociologist calls "definitions of the situation." These agreements, rules, or principles of procedure may be taken for granted and be largely unconscious or they may be more conscious and deliberate.

Life thus confronts us continuously with alternatives and there is the ever-present necessity of making what are called "moral judgments." This problem of conduct which is ever before us as human beings has taken the name morality. The study of problems of morality and an elaboration of the principles involved has been called ethics. Ethics is thus one branch of the general field of values (axiology).

Morals and ethics are closely related concepts. The term moral comes from the Latin mos (plural mores) which meant the custom or way of life. The related term ethics comes from the Greek ethos which meant custom or character. In origin the terms are thus closely related in meaning and are sometimes used as if they were synonyms. In present usage, however, morals usually refers to the conduct itself, whereas ethics more frequently refers to the study of moral conduct or to the system or code which is followed. We speak of an ethical code and a moral act. Ethics is a normative study which deals with the principles by which we discriminate between right and wrong.

The terms right and good and their opposites are also central in discussions of moral problems. Right comes from the Latin rectus meaning "straight" or "in line." Thus in general or popular usage it implies conformity to some standard -- any standard which has been accepted. Right, as we use the term in a moral sense, refers to conduct which is conducive to good or which is believed to bring about the greatest possible value in the situation under consideration. Right conduct is conduct which is in

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American Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents vii
  • List of Contributors ix
  • Introduction - Orientation of Thought xi
  • Suggested Readings xviii
  • Part I - Fields and Problems of American Philosophy 1
  • The Philosophy of Science: The Problem of Factual Truth 3
  • Suggested Readings 19
  • Axiology: the Problem Of Human Values 21
  • Suggested Readings 33
  • Aesthetics: the Problem of Art And Beauty 34
  • Suggested Readings 47
  • Ethics: the Problem of Morality 49
  • Suggested Readings 63
  • Semantics: the Problem Of Meaning 64
  • Suggested Readings 82
  • Logic: the Problem of Reasoning 84
  • Suggested Readings 97
  • Metaphysics: the Problems Of Knowledge and Existence 98
  • Suggested Readings 113
  • Philosophy of Religion: The Problem of Faith 114
  • Suggested Readings 127
  • Part II - Sources and Choices of Philosophy 129
  • Transcendentalism 131
  • Suggested Readings 137
  • Idealism 138
  • Suggested Readings 146
  • Thomism 147
  • Suggested Readings 154
  • Personalism 155
  • Suggested Readings 161
  • Pragmatism 162
  • Suggested Readings 171
  • Humanism 172
  • Suggested Readings 182
  • Logical Positivism 183
  • Suggested Readings 191
  • Realism 193
  • Suggested Readings 202
  • Naturalism 203
  • Suggested Readings 210
  • Oriental Philosophy in America 211
  • Part III - American Thinkers 221
  • American Thought: A Chart 223
  • William Penn 227
  • Samuel Johnson 230
  • Jonathan Edwards 233
  • Benjamin Franklin 235
  • Thomas Paine 238
  • Thomas Jefferson 241
  • Benjamin Rush 244
  • William Ellery Channing 247
  • John Caldwell Calhoun 250
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson 253
  • Abraham Lincoln 256
  • Henry David Thoreau 259
  • Walt Whitman 262
  • Robert Green Ingersoll 265
  • Charles Sanders Peirce 268
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. 271
  • John Fiske 274
  • William James 277
  • Ambrose Bierce 280
  • Borden Parker Bowne 283
  • Josiah Royce 285
  • John Dewey 288
  • George Santayana 291
  • Morris Raphael Cohen 294
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt 297
  • Suggested Readings 300
  • Conclusion 303
  • Index 311
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