Conference Website

Morality or Ethics: Real Differences or Mere Semantics?
February 25th and 26th 2013
Ghent University

A collaboration between CAPPE (Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics), University of Brighton and CEVI (Centre for Ethics and Value Inquiry), Ghent University, and hosted by CEVI

This workshop emerged from ongoing concerns by the organisers – Bob Brecher, director of CAPPE, Tom Claes, Director of CEVI and Paul Reynolds – as to what we were meaningfully saying when we were using the languages of ethics and of morals when we made statements or criticisms of particular ethical judgements, decisions or actions/developments. It seemed to us that often the language was used simply because there was a precedent for doing so, without adequate critical reflection on what it means to say something is ethical or moral, how those languages involve real differences – or perhaps simply semantic differences? – in how we think and judge questions where ethics/morals play a part.

We tried to reflect this concern in the call for papers:

Anglophone philosophy began to supplant discussions of morals with deliberations on ‘ethics’ in the 1980s. In reaction to both assertions of a ‘primacy’ of morality by established interests and competing claims for either moral universalism or moral relativism, ‘morality’ fell out of favour, to be replaced by ‘ethics’. Bernard Williams’ Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy is the seminal text representing this shift. In a similar vein, critical theorists influenced by Habermas have used a distinction between ethics and morality to rethink the ethical limits of particular communities, a defence of moral universalism that has come to be widely questioned in recent years.

At the same time, however, these moves – whatever their original merits – have been made problematic as both the elusiveness of the concept of ‘ethics’ and the business of ‘doing ethics’ proliferate so wildly that they have arguably become uselessly empty. Ethics is everywhere – in the media, in politicians’ “policies” and even in the market; and codes of conduct and organisational policies are replete with ethics. Consider for example the development of ‘professional ethics’, ‘research ethics’, ‘business ethics’, public service integrity and standards and ‘bio-medical ethics’. While these sound differently eccentric from ‘getting the morality right’, they constitute a contemporary mantra influencing political standards, policy and professional practice.

The result is that ‘ethics’ comes with as much baggage – different though that baggage is – as ‘morality’. The contemporary mantra of ‘getting the ethics right’ obscures and impedes thinking about the good, the right and the just no less effectively – perhaps more effectively? – than the moralism of ‘morality’.

This workshop thus seeks to:

  • explore and describe the conceptual and linguistic distinctions between ‘ethics’ and ‘morals’;
  • place the phenomena of the use of these two concepts in their context and explore the impasses they present in juxtaposition; and
  • begin to find ways to move beyond these impasses to make possible a clear consideration of what it might mean to say something is an ethical or a moral problem that avoids both moralism and the empty formulae of ethics – or to make clear why this cannot be done.

We welcome discussion and position papers that speculate, question and think as much as (if not more than) polished pieces; and we hope to attract a group of scholars who will want to develop something more substantial from this small starting-point.

Contributions that will take no more than 20 minutes to present (though we will pre-circulate papers submitted early enough) are sought from scholars from any disciplinary or trans-disciplinary position, whether their offer is philosophical and conceptual or explores the question through a particular paradigm, perspective, discipline or problem. The intention of the organizers is to choose a small number of papers in order to leave space for discussion and reflection and to privilege contributions where contributors will attend both full days of the workshop. Those wishing to offer a paper should send their abstract (no more than 300 words), name, contact details and affiliations to both e-mail addresses below by Thursday December 6th at 12pm. Responses – acceptances and rejections with regret - will be mailed the following week

Non-presenting contributors are also welcome to participate, though there are limited places to do so. They should e-mail name, contact details and affiliations to both e-mail addresses below by Thursday December 6th by 12pm. Responses – acceptances and rejections with regret - will be mailed the following week

A fee of 120 Euros will be charged for administration, conference pack, refreshments and lunches for both days.

There may be a publication arising from this project but this is not a primary intention of the workshop and will only be considered after the workshop has taken place.

All enquiries and abstracts should be sent to all three of the organisers:

Prof. Bob Brecher, CAPPE, University of Brighton -  
Prof. Tom Claes, Director, CEVI, Ghent University -
Paul Reynolds, Edge Hill University -

The conference is organised and hosted by the Center for Ethics & Value Inquiry (CEVI), Ghent University, in collaboration with the Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics (CAPPE, University of Brighton).