Ethics may be defined as the knowledge of moral values and duties or as the study of the ideal human character, actions, and ends. The term may also refer to a treatise on morals. Every religious tradition advocates high standards of human behavior, and in that sense, all religious communities have a moral component. The concept of “ethics,” however, emerges from the Western philosophic tradition. For this reason, this entry will first consider the development of this idea in Western philosophy and then explore the parallel forms of moral reasoning in the diverse religious traditions.

Aristotle, whose Nicomachean Ethics is surely one of the earliest treatises on the subject, thought of ethics as a “practical” science. In this sense, ethics is distinguished from “theoretical” inquiries such ...

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