A NOTE ON ETHICS
D. R. Khashaba
Some works of reference define ethics as the science of morals. In my opinion this is doubly erroneous. In the first place, there is no science of morals and there can never be a science of morals. Morality defines a way of life and offers a quality of life. Hence there can be many different moralities, opposed but not necessarily contradictory. Hence too, all morality is relative, but this does not negate the absolute character of morals as an affirmation of the value of life.
In the second place, ethics and morals are two completely distinct things. Ethics is the theory of morality and can – at any rate one kind of ethics can – be properly described as a science.
There are two kinds of ethical theory. One kind is objective: it observes, traces, describes. records the way moral judgments and moral values arise in particular societies, cultures, or times. This follows scientific methods and can properly be described as a science. The other kind is purely theoretical. It constructs a conceptual superstructure around a particular morality, elucidating, rationalizing, justifying that particular morality. Such is the Ethics of Spinoza; such are the ethical works of Kant. The theory does not initiate or establish or even necessarily propagate the moral values it theorizes about. The theory is an extraneous adjunct to the morality. (The moral insights in a work such as Spinoza’s or Kant’s can be genuine, original, precious, but they are essentially prior to and independent of the theory.)
Cairo, 10 June 2015