The “Root” of Ethics and Morality

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The etymology of the words ‘ethics’ and ‘morality’ are derived from the roots “ethos” and “mos” which both convey a meaning describing customs or habits.  This etymology supports the claims of anthropologist, Ruth Benedict in her belief that all values are rooted in customs and habits of a culture because the words moral and ethics themselves were essentially created to describe these topics.

Ruth Benedict is among a group called the cultural relativists that believe “whatever is normal and customary is what is right, and whatever is abnormal and deviant is wrong.”  Cultural relativism stresses acceptance because it is a “de facto” of human reality.  De facto is a term that portrays the concept of the “way it is”.  Cultural relativism believes that customs portray good and deviance portrays what is bad and that is just the way it is, there is no room for argument.  Because they feel that morals and values are defined by the customs themselves then they do not take their own morals and values into account when judging other cultures.  Cultural relativists accept that customs simply “are” and hold strong to the belief that customs are de facto and not subject to judgment by any other set of beliefs.  Over time, the concept of cultural relativism has occasionally developed into subjective relativism.  Subjective relativism is a term describing a person’s ability to decide what is right and wrong.  Because the power of ethics lies in the beliefs of a culture, subjective relativism stresses that ethics may be defined by whatever an individual chooses to believe. 

Subjective, a term stressing the authority of an individual’s perception translates into subjective realism in a declaration that each person is their own source for their moral principals.  Ultimately, this type of thinking led to the development of ethical nihilism, a belief that “the view or attitudes in which moral values are regarded as basically meaningless.”  This view is based on the idea that nothing can transcend the choices of an individual.  Anything and everything becomes permissible in ethical nihilism. 

Politically, nihilism would be comparable to anarchy.  The lack of government and lack of rules are comparable to the way ethical nihilism stresses no authority, no morals, and no common strand of ethics.  It seems obvious, that a world operating in this fashion would very quickly be overwhelmed by chaos, sending generations of advancement into a rapidly spiraling regression…While it may be acceptable to understand ethics and morality from a “whatever is natural” standpoint – it is likely not a good idea to allow society to operate in a similar fashion.  No matter the how positive the basis of moral judgment, moderation is key in the actual development of rules and laws.


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