Morality and the Human Condition, #3–How Ethics Relates to Morality.

By Robert Hanna

“The Human Condition,” by Thomas Whitaker


I. Introduction

II. The Standard Conception of Morality

II.1 The Moral Question and The Meaning Question

II.2 How Ethics Relates to Morality

II.3 How Morality Relates to Rationality

II.4 Six Famously Hard Cases

III. Three Classical Challenges to the Standard Conception of Morality

III.1 Moral Relativism

III.2 Eight Logical Principles of Human Rationality

III.3 Moral Skepticism

III.4 Psychological and Moral Egoism

IV. Morality and Religion

IV.1 God and The Divine Command Theory

IV.2 Does an Essentially Rational God Exist?

IV.3 Religion and Morality

V. Three Classical Moral Theories

V.1 Aristotelian Virtue Ethics

V.1.1 Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, books 1–3: A Brief Exposition

V.1.2 Four Worries about Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics

V.1.3 Contemporary Virtue Ethics

V.2 Millian Utilitarianism

V.2.1 Not-So-Happy Little Campers: Ten Big Problems for Millian Utilitarianism

V.3 Kant’s Ethics of Persons and Principles

V.3.1 Ten Basic Ideas

V.3.2 Three Classical Worries about Kant’s Ethics

V.4 All-Things-Considered Conclusion of This Section

VI. Pascal’s Optimism and Schopenhauer’s Pessimism

VI.1 Pascal’s Optimism About the Meaning of Life

VI.2 Schopenhauer’s Pessimism About the Meaning of Life

VI.3 Pascal or Schopenhauer? Optimism or Pessimism?

VII. Existentialism, the Absurd, and Affirmation

VII.1 Two Kinds of Existentialism

VII.2 Nagel and the Absurd

VII.3 Camus and Affirmation

VIII. The Ethics of Authenticity

VIII.1 Existential Ethics and the Concept of Authenticity

VIII.1.1 What is Authenticity?

VIII.1.2 Authenticity and Radical Freedom

VIII.1.3 Inauthenticity, Freedom-Refusers, and Freedom Deniers

VIII.2 Two Important Problems for Existential Ethics

VIII.3 Sartre on Principled Authenticity

IX. The Nature of Death

IX.1 The Ambiguity of “Death”

IX.2 The Nature of Our Own Death

IX.2.1 Nagel On the Nature of Our Own Death

IX.2.2 Suits Against the “Deprivation” Account of the Badness of Death

IX.2.3 Some Critical Worries About What Nagel and Suits are Saying About the Nature of Our Own Death

X. The (Im)Possibility of Human Immortality

X.1 Williams on the Tedium of Immortality

X.2 Fischer on How Human Immortality Could Be a Good Thing

X.3 Some Worries About What Williams and Fischer are Saying About Human Immortality

X.4 Human Life Without Immortality



II.2 How Ethics Relates to Morality

As Hegel in the 19th century and also many more recent or contemporary philosophers — perhaps most notably, in the 1970s, Bernard Williams — have correctly noted, it’s illuminating to distinguish between “ethics” (aka Sittlichkeit) and “morality” (aka Moralität).[i]

Ethics is the larger, more encompassing domain of values, especially including the highest good(s), and morality, the domain of rules, principles, strict normative laws, permissions, and obligations, is only a proper part of it.

On Williams’s account, strikingly, morality is “the peculiar institution,” alluding of course to John C. Calhoun’s notorious description of the American system of slavery prior to the Civil War.[ii]

By ironically applying this morally uncomplimentary label to morality itself, Williams means that it is nothing but a socially constructed, life-denying, normatively shallow, inherently oppressive, inhumane, and self-perpetuating formal sub-system of rule-mongering within our real, fully meaningful, “thick,” multi-textured, and all-encompassing “human, all too human” ethical life.[iii]

Similar critical, skeptical thoughts about morality have been developed by Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, and John Mackie.[iv]

But on my sharply different understanding of the ethics vs. morality distinction, morality is the essence of ethics.

Our ethical life is indeed a real, fully meaningful, “thick,” multi-textured, “human, all too human,” and all-encompassing ethical life.

Indeed, our ethical life is our whole life.

But morality is our whole life’s all-enabling core, that is, its essential proper part.

So in this sense, the proper part structurally guides and pervades the whole.

In what follows, I’ll generally use the terms “ethics” and “morality” in accordance with the distinction I’ve just spelled out.

But it’s also worth noting that occasionally I’ll follow the usage of many other teachers and writers in this area, who’ve somewhat sloppily

either (i) used “ethics” and “morality” interchangeably,

or (ii) used “ethics” to mean the same as “moral theory” or “moral philosophy.”

A good example is the term “introductory ethics course.”

— Obviously, it’s a philosophical mug’s game to try to legislate common or even technical usage; and as always, sadly, there are simply too few words in any natural language for the purposes of philosophy.

But we’ll muddle through.


[i] See, e.g., B. Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (London: Fontana, 1985); and B. Williams, Morality: An Introduction to Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1972). The ethics vs. morality = Sittlichkeit vs. Moralität contrast has also had some impact in contemporary philosophy. E.g., essentially the same distinction is replicated in the titles and basic topics of the first two divisions of Shafer-Landau’s widely-used and influential Fundamentals of Ethics: “The Good Life” and “Normative Ethics: Doing the Right Thing,” which sets it interestingly apart from the bog-standard tripartite division of moral philosophy into meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics.

[ii] See J.C. Calhoun, “Speech on the Reception of Abolition Petitions: Revised Report,” U.S. Senate (Feb. 6, 1837, at Wake Forest University), available online at URL = <>.

[iii] Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, ch. 10.

[iv] See, e.g., F. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. W. Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1966); F. Nietzsche, “ The Genealogy of Morals,” in F. Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, trans. W. Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1967), pp. 13–163; M. Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the New Prison, trans. A. Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1975); M. Foucault, The Order of Things (New York: Vintage, 1973), ch. 9; and J.L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977).


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Thursday 19 December 2019

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