This article (Shook, 2015) makes a distinction between "ethical naturalism" and "moral naturalism":

Moral naturalism as defined at the conclusion of the previous section is distinct from both ethical naturalism and moral realism. Ethics is the philosophical domain that deals with meta‐level issues about ways for determining the meanings and applicability of moral norms and terms, questions about the appropriate methods for judging and answering moral problems, and concerns over whether better moralities, or even one correct morality, can be determined. Ethical naturalism therefore goes much further than moral naturalism, by not only agreeing that actual morality should be studied naturalistically, but additionally claiming that all those meta‐level issues are questions to be answered by empirical sciences as well. If successful, ethical naturalism would render moral nihilism, scepticism, subjectivism, and relativism all obsolete.

But according to Wikipedia, "ethical naturalism" and "moral naturalism" are synonymous:

Ethical naturalism (also called moral naturalism or naturalistic cognitivistic definism)1 is the meta-ethical view which claims that:

The SEP only wrote about "moral naturalism" (in this article, the term "ethical naturalism" appears only once).

Britannica only wrote about "ethical naturalism" (in this article, the term "moral naturalism" doesn't appear).

So I don't know if the SEP article, the Britannica article, and the Wikipedia article are talking about the same thing.

I also read on this website that ethics and moral philosophy are equivalent terms.


Shook, J. R. (2015). Humanism, Moral Relativism, and Ethical Objectivity. The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Humanism, 403-425.

  • So what is the question? Shook uses "moral naturalism" in his own sense, "as defined at the conclusion of the previous section".
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 5:29
  • @Conifold Generally, "ethical naturalism" and "moral naturalism" are synonymous? For instance, are the article of the SEP and the article of Britannica talking about the same thing?
    – Starckman
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 5:32
  • The author says later in the paragraphs "Some versions of ethical naturalism even propose a unified ‘science of ethics’ which will scientifically determine what is truly moral for humanity." and "No moral naturalist needs to first decide whether any part of ethical naturalism is valid." as if there were "ethical naturalists" distinct from "moral naturalists"
    – Starckman
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 5:33
  • There is no "generally", even Wikipedia gives specific references. Some authors use "moral" and "ethical" interchangeably, others don't. Shook doesn't, so to him "ethical naturalists" are distinct from "moral naturalists", as he defined both.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 5:39
  • @Conifold Then do the SEP and Britannica's articles on "ethical/moral naturalism" talk about the same thing?
    – Starckman
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 5:41

1 Answer 1


Firstly, welcome to philosophy, a field of study plagued and fuelled by ambiguity.

Your question begins 'This article makes a distinction...' so perhaps we should take that as a clue to suggest that a distinction between ethics and morals is one that can be manufactured to suit a given philosopher's purpose.

Anyway, it seems to me from your limited quotation that Shook is using the term morals to mean codes of behaviour, values etc, and ethics to mean the study of morals and the principles that should govern them.

In Brittanica you will find the statement 'Generally, the terms ethics and morality are used interchangeably', and they later say that most philosophers who study ethics consider the terms interchangeable. Having said that, they then base an entire article on the difference between the terms, the drift of which is that morals are more about personal behaviour and values while ethics are externally determined rules.

On another website, whose strapline includes the words 'academic rigour', you will find exactly the opposite distinction being made. They say that ethics refer to personal standards of behaviour, while morals refer to the standards of the community.

So my advice to you is to attach less weight to the words used to label different views and more weight to the views themselves.

  • Hear hear! Let's look at the ideas and drop the labels! :-) When a post on this StackExchange turns to a "battle of the -isms", something seems to be lost ...
    – Frank
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 14:48

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