Moral. In its highest sense this word is synonymous with ethical. That
is derived from ἦθος, which signifies both temper, character, and
manner, custom, in which sense it is equivalent to the Latin mos, from
which our word moral is derived. Indeed the substantive morals is the
translation of mores when the latter denotes ethical habits or manners.
Aristotle calls attention to the slightness of difference between the
words ἔθος and
ἦθος, and considers
ἔθος, habit or custom, as the creator
of ἦθος, character.(1)
Moral bears another meaning. We apply it to
a truth neither necessary nor in the full sense
universal. We speak of moral as distinguished
from demonstrative evidence, and moral as distinguished from full universality. "Dans une matière contingente, on se
contente d'une universalité morale." (2) In this sense it corresponds very
much with the ὡς ἐπὶ τό πολύ
of Aristotle, and with our
general and in
How the word moral came to be applied in this sense is a question on
which I have not succeeded in getting much light. A friend suggests that
it may have originated in the distinction between ethical and necessary
truth, the former, as Aristotle warns his readers,(3) being unsusceptible
of the accurate investigation and determination which can be applied to
the latter, and hence the adjective moral may have had its meaning
extended to all matter in the same situation, to all that is contingent.
(1) Eth. Nic. II. 1. See too PLATO, Laws, VII. 792 E.
(2) La Logique, ou l'Art de Penser, Port Royal, c. III.
(3) Eth. Nic. I. 3.