Original Research - Special Collection: Morality in history

An ethics of responsibility and the origin of morality

Anton A. van Niekerk
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 44, No 1 | a2924 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v44i1.2924 | © 2023 Anton A. van Niekerk | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 June 2023 | Published: 28 November 2023

About the author(s)

Anton A. van Niekerk, Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa


This article investigates the nature of an ‘Ethics of Responsibility’ (ER) as well as its significance for the broader research project dealt with, namely ‘Morality in History’. The article starts off with a conceptual analysis of the notions of ‘morality’ and ‘ethics’, followed by an exposition of Alasdair MacIntyre’s formulation of the ‘anomaly’ of current-day moral theory. This leads to a comprehensive analysis of MacIntyre’s argument as to why the Enlightenment project was, according to him, doomed to failure and a return to Aristotle is essentially called for. Consequently, the approach known as the ER is introduced, drawing on the work of Hans Jonas, Emmanuel Levinas, Richard Niehbur, Richard Bernstein, William Schweiker and Aristotle. The following concepts are analysed and integrated into the framework of the ER, namely accountability (Schwecker), reciprocity (Levinas), fallibility (Van Niekerk), futurity (Jonas), the dialectic between normativity and applications (Bernstein) and phronesis (Aristotle).

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: The article argues that the theoretical model of an ‘ethics of responsibility’ contributes significantly to reflection on the ‘origins of morality’. The ‘anomaly’ of current-day moral theory is analysed This is followed by a comprehensive exposition of the ER. This model of ethical conceptualisation bestows even more clarity on the intra- and interdisciplinary implications of the article, as a model is developed, drawing on the work of Jonas, Levinas, Schweiker and others, that utilises the insights of Aristotle and thereby transcends the approaches to moral reasoning of Modernity.


responsibility; anomaly; Aristotle; Levinas; ethics; morality; MacIntyre; virtues.

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