Ethics in the Early Modern Period

Ethics in the Early Modern Period

While many of the disciplines and sub-disciplines pertaining to philosophy during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries are now part of other academic fields and subject-matters, ethics has remained as a resilient area of philosophical inquiry to this day. Textbooks on ethics were published throughout the early modern period, together with sections on ethics within encyclopaedic writings devoted in whole or in part to philosophy. And academic disputations were devoted to specific topics and questions pertaining to ethics.

Moral virtue
Within general discussions of ethics during the early modern period the concept of moral virtue (virtus moralis) normally was accorded a central role. Moral virtue was normally conceived as the mean between extremes (mediocritas). The bulk of textbooks on ethics was normally devoted to examination the individual moral virtues (e.g., fortitude, humility, justice, modesty, taciturnity, and temperance) and often accompanied by discussion of corresponding vices (e.g., audacity and cowardice as the two vices corresponding to fortitude).

Additional concepts
General discussions of ethics also focus on a number of additional concepts related in some manner to moral virtue; these generally included intellectual virtue (sub-categories of which could be wisdom, prudence, and sometimes individual arts and science disciplines), dispositions (habitus), friendship, free will, honor, happiness, and moral actions. Charity, faith, hope, and piety also were frequently given attention. From the late 17th century onwards, natural law was sometimes also discussed. Good and evil, which normally were examined within the subject-matter of metaphysics, nonetheless were generally accorded direct and/or indirect attention within ethics. Moral good (which has its origin at least in part from God) is sometimes placed alongside morality, which normally based upon human conventions.

Ethics in the 21st century
During the early modern period, ethics served as a foundation of family life, politics, and moral theology. At an elementary level, fables, phrases, and stories were used to teach ethical precepts. But in the 21st century, ethics is an increasingly important factor in the context of business, law, and health professions as well as within the realms of character education and general professional ethics.

Prof. Joseph S. Freedman, Alabama State University in Montgomery, Alabama

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