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Traditional vs. Modern Ethics

Updated on July 19, 2009

Surprisingly, both modern and traditional ethics are the faces of the same coin. So one should not try to antagonize them, but see them as they are – not two contrasting values, but values linked and intertwined since the dawn of modern ethics (good point). Modern ethics could very well be perceived as a logical, natural development spurred by traditional ethics. Since times change and there is nothing we can do about it, so do our ethical ideas and notions. What was wrong yesterday is right now, and what was right yesterday is wrong today. This happens because our thinking evolves, and even if we are living in a post-modernist era (some might argue with that), it does not mean that ethics has lost its meaning. So always, keep in mind changing times when you think about ethical dilemmas.

Without philosophy, there would be no ethics, as it is well known that ethics is one of the most important branches of philosophy (great point). We are talking about the study of various values and customs of a person or a group of persons plus their use of different concepts, two of them being the concepts of what are right and what is wrong. There is no denying that Christianity has contributed much to the evolution of modern ethics by developing and shaping the traditional ethics. However, modern ethics, not surprisingly, moves away from mere religious interpretations of facts and events (good point).

Traditional ethics evolved from the ancient Greeks to the ethics of Christianity, ever changing what was good or bad, right or wrong. Traditional ethics were more emotional and less rational / political. Modern ethics evolved from traditional ethics, still studying what was good or bad, right or wrong (good to note this connection between them). However, this time, we are talking about a more rational approach as opposed to what was a purely emotional one. Empirical criteria became the criteria of choice. The connection between the two is the object of study of ethics itself. Only the criteria by which the judging is made have changed.


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    • sanctasapientia profile image

      sanctasapientia 7 years ago

      Thanks for raising this ethical issue – it is an interesting one. I am not sure what you mean when you say that traditional and modern ethics are two sides of the same coin. If you mean that both modern and traditional people agree on the same ethical norms and laws, then I agree with your point. The basic precepts of morality have remained the same. However, I would argue that the justification for these norms is what has changed. Traditional ethical thinking asks about what kind of person one is becoming through acting in the world. Modern ethical thinking is more about following the ethical laws without reference to the kind of person one becomes.

      I would also suggest your claim that traditional ethical thinking is more emotional and modern ethical thinking is more rational is inaccurate. Both forms of thinking make claims to rationality. Traditional ethics believes that the emotions can and should be formed and trained by reason to respond to the right things at the right time in the right way. Modern ethics of the Kantian variety thinks that all emotional evaluation should be avoided and advocates a purely rational approach. Modern ethics of the Humian sort accepts the emotions as authoritative indicators of right and wrong.

      Check out my own hub on this issue where I go into more detail about my own assessment of modern and traditional ethics.

      Thanks for your thoughtful post.

      Sancta Sapientia

    • Daniel Carter profile image

      Daniel Carter 8 years ago from Western US

      Excellent insights and writing, Mr. Math Whiz. :-) Loved this hub and look forward to lots more from you. Welcome, btw.

    • profile image

      L. Andrew Marr 8 years ago

      I'm a philosophy student and I can say that you are 100% correct. Philosophy and Ethics are one in the same, it's just most people don't realise it. There are several ethical theories which come to mind which need religion as a basis (and we all know philosophy is the basis to religion); Natural Law, Kantian Ethics, Christian Ethics, Virtue Theory, Situation Ethics..even to some extent Utilitarianism (although not so much). Great blog here. You know you stuff, or you atleast blag it very well =P

      Luke

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