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Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Morality vs. ethics.

Sometimes, while reading on one topic, you stumble onto something you didn't expect but have always wanted to know. I have always wanted a good, simple way to describe the difference between morality and ethics, and now that I have started reading Avishai Margalit's The Ethics of Memory, I finally have one!

[T]he distinction between ethics and morality . . . is based on a distinction between two types of human relations: thick ones and thin ones. Thick relations are grounded in attributes such as parent, friend, lover, fellow-countryman. Thick relations are anchored in a shared past or moored in shared memory. Thin relations, on the other hand, are backed by the attribute of being human. Thin relations rely also on some aspects of being human, such as being a woman or being sick. Thick relations are in general our relation to the near and dear. Thin relations are in general our relations to the stranger and the remote. . . . Ethics, in the way I use the term, tells us how we should regulate our thick relations; morality tells us how we should regulate our thin relations. (The Ethics of Memory, Harvard UP: 2003, 7-8)

Or this even pithier statement:

Because it encompasses all humanity, morality is long on geography and short on memory. Ethics is typically short on geography and long on memory. Memory is the cement that holds thick relations together, and communities of memory are the obvious habitat for thick relations and thus for ethics. (8)


Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 12 August 2003 at 5:32 PM

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