After Virtue – 1

If i’m ever at a loose end in trinity of an evening I tend to wander into the library and slowly work my through Alisdair Mcintyre’s After Virtue. It’s been about 4 months now and i’m only on chapter 4 so it may take a while.

Last night while waiting for a lecture by this guy I came across a fascinating bit in chapter 4 about the origin of the word moral.

According to Mcintyre there was no word in Latin appropriately translated as moral till we translated one backwards into latin.

There is a latin word moralis that is linked (but not the same) as our word moral. But even moralis is another invented word (from Cicero) to translate the Greek word ethikos.

Here’s where the distinction from our word moral comes in: Ethikos is taken to mean “pertaining to character” and was understood as

a set of dispositons to behave systematically in one way rather than another. To lead one particular kind of life

The very idea that we could abstract “the moral of the story” from the character of the person is such a new idea that we had to invent a new word for it.


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February 2011

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