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Against Ethical Exceptionalism – Through Critical Reflection on the History of Use of the Terms ‘Ethics’ and ‘Morals’ in Philosophy

Hans Fink
From the journal SATS


In this paper, I aim to support contextual ethics as a broad and open understanding of ethics and the ethical by commenting on the origin of the words ‘ethics’ and ‘ethical’ in Greek philosophy and on the ambiguities built into them from the beginning. I further list some complexities that arose when the Latinate words ‘morals’ and ‘moral’ began to be used in Roman, medieval and modern philosophy, sometimes as synonyms of and sometimes in contrast to ‘ethics’ and ‘ethical’. Finally, I return to discuss the prospects of contextual ethics in the context of developments in moral philosophy in the twentieth century, adding some pragmatist arguments in its favour.

Corresponding author: Hans Fink, University of Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark, E-mail:


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Published Online: 2020-11-30
Published in Print: 2020-11-25

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