In many languages, including German and English, the terms ethics, morals, values etc are used almost interchangeably in everyday language. In order to facilitate substantive and precise conversation in this course, the following definitions will be used:
- Ethics: teachings surrounding right behavior in human beings; from Greek εθικη: of or relating to morals and principles
- Morals: Concerning principles of right or wrong behavior; principles
- Ethos: convictions, morality, customs
- Values – cost, meaning, “overarching norms”
- Custom – habit, practice, morality
- Norm – guidelines, example, rule
- Virtues – outstanding moral behavior; “praiseworthy conduct” (Aristotle, Nichomanchean Ethics 1,13)
Norms are necessary but dependent on their time and are therefore changeable.
- Norms have the tendency to become taken for granted and then become perpetuated, even without good reasons because “that’s just how things are done.” For example, women should only cross their legs at the ankle while sitting.
- Norms will frequently be disregarded if they cannot be enforced. For example, if speed limits while driving are not enforced, people will frequently speed.
Values are predetermined, timeless, and unchangeable. However, their acceptance can be controversial. The here proposed thought is that values remain immutable throughout time, however acceptance of certain values can change drastically from era to era. Values are ageless but they are still contextual terms. For example, equality, the foundational value of the French Revolution in 1789, can seem just or unjust depending on the context in which it is applied.