It is common in ordinary usage to find a variety of terms referring to the same thing. Sometimes there are inflexions or nuances between them, other times not.

Vertically, what discriminates between these sets?

ethical | unethical  
moral | immoral  
virtue | sin

It seems obvious that there are differences in the etymology if we consider the roots of these words, however, are they referring to different concepts, or, in fact, to the same concepts? Is there some subtle discrimination between them, perhaps vertically they are representing differing levels, although, I would argue that vertically there is no grey between them? i.e. if it is ethical it is moral and it is a virtue, if it is unethical it is immoral and it is sin. The basis for this argument is, if it is not sinning then, how can it be unethical?

Is the word selection, in fact, more evidence of the world-view or position of the word user than it is in discriminating between concepts? I conceptualise, for example, that the use of ethical and unethical allows one to discuss concepts of good and bad without needing any anchoring thought to concepts of a benevolent God. I would like to say that moral refers to a consistency with the outcomes of a story used for teaching, but, I do not know the words' full history.

I do not suppose even momentarily that this is strictly a question of language and usage but, that it requires thought. Although, I do intend to later ask the same question of EL&U.SE for a different set of views.

It is obvious someone could understand the question it has a viable answer.

  • See ethical : "pertaining to or dealing with morals or the principles of morality; pertaining to right and wrong in conduct." Thus it is simply an issue of dictionary. Commented May 2, 2018 at 8:30

1 Answer 1


I would say that selection is indicator of a word-user's cultural and personal constructions of Self. Each culture gives different contexts and therefore different meanings for words.

For example, in the USA genius is often equated with people of exceptional levels of talent and education. People often say things like "Did you hear? She got a perfect score on the exam. She must be a genius."

Another example, in ancient times and in modern times by members of the Mythopoetic Mens' Movement people equate genius with "an individual's unique way of seeing the world".

We could apply this to your given words above as well. Virtue and sin mean entirely different things for medieval christians from western Europe from what they mean for classical geeks like Aristotle and Epicurus.

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