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Chapter 12. Ethics

G. Scott Davis

Subject Religion
Philosophy » Ethics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631232162.2006.00014.x


“Ethics” and its cognates derive from a Greek root that encompasses “custom,” “habit,” “disposition,” and “character.” “Morals” and its cognates derive from the Latin terms used to translate words with that Greek root. While technical distinctions between “ethics” and “morality” have sometimes been drawn, the distinctions have no historical basis or philosophical use beyond that exploited by those who make them. Here they will be used interchangeably. “Religion,” though the Romans themselves disputed its etymology, refers to the scrupulous execution of rights and duties that flow from the awe and fear inspired by the majesty of the divine rather than to any specific set of beliefs or practices. Institutions, practices, and beliefs have usually been identified as religious because of their antiquity, their claims for supernatural origin, or their incorporation into a comprehensive vision of the cosmos and the place of human beings in it. Ethics and religion have always been closely intertwined. Euthyphro, in Plato's dialogue of that name, takes it as given that justice and piety are closely related even if, by the end of the dialogue, Socrates has questioned exactly what that relation might be (see Plato 1997, 14b–15e). Part of the problem with the relation of ethics to religion lies in the often unarticulated presuppositions and expectations with which people approach the study ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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