From the second edition (1989):
moral, a.
(ˈmɒrəl) Also 4 morale, -alle, 4–7 morall. [ad. L. mōrālis, f. mōr-, mōs custom (pl. mōrēs manners, morals, character): see -al1.
The Latin word was formed by Cicero (De Fato ii. i) as a rendering of Gr. ἠθικός ethic a. (mōrēs being the accepted Latin equivalent of ἤθη). It has passed into all the mod. Rom. and Teut. langs.: Fr., Sp., Pg. moral, It. morale; G. moralisch, Du. moraal, Sw., Da. moral.]


1. a. Of or pertaining to character or disposition, considered as good or bad, virtuous or vicious; of or pertaining to the distinction between right and wrong, or good and evil, in relation to the actions, volitions, or character of responsible beings; ethical.
moral virtue: a rendering of L. virtus moralis, Gr. ἀρετὴ ἠθική (Aristotle), (an) excellence of character or disposition, as distinguished from intellectual virtue (ἀρετὴ διανοητική). As in English (and in other modern languages) virtue is rarely used exc. as synonymous with moral virtue, the use of the adj. with this n. has become infrequent.

a1340 Hampole Psalter cxviii. 1 Þis psalme‥all shynys of haly lare and morale swetnes. c1386 Chaucer Prol. 307 Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche. c1449 Pecock Repr. ii. iv. (Rolls) 155 Sum vntrewe opinioun of men‥is leding into deedis whiche ben grete moral vicis. 1529 More Dyaloge i. Wks. 173/2 He called his churche out of the gentiles which els as for morall vertues and politicall‥were‥not farre vnder mani of vs. 1592 G. Harvey Pierce's Super. 103 An aduancement‥of that morall, and intellectuall good, that‥so forciblie emprooueth itselfe. 1601 Shakes. All's Well i. ii. 21 Youth, thou bear'st thy Fathers face‥Thy Fathers morall parts Maist thou inherit too. 1675 R. Burthogge Causa Dei 97 Since the Objection doth proceed of Moral, and not of Metaphysical and Abstract Goodness. 1698 Stillingfl. Serm. III. vi. 242 In Matters of Religion, Moral Difficulties are more to be regarded than Intellectual. 1699 Shaftesbury Inq. Virtue i. i. §1 in Charac. (1711) II. 8 An Author‥who dares plead for Religion and Moral Virtue. Ibid. 30 margin, Moral Beauty and Deformity. 1711 Addison Spect. No. 195 ⁋6, I have not here considered Temperance as it is a Moral Virtue‥but only as it is the Means of Health. 1839 Hallam Hist. Lit. IV. iv. 306 The theologians who went no farther than revelation, or at least than the positive law of God, for moral distinctions. 1876 Mozley Univ. Serm. iv. (1877) 85 It is plain that eloquence, imagination, poetical talent, are no more moral goodness than riches are. 1949 M. Fortes Social Structure 60 Its form derives from a paradigm‥sanctioned by‥moral values. 1951 R. Firth Elem. Social Organiz. vi. 200 This can be illustrated by considering the moral values attached to human personality in certain social situations. 1964 S. M. Willhelm in I. L. Horowitz New Sociol. 184 The scientific ideology simply places the scientist in a moral vacuum. Ibid. 186 Recognizing his historical obligation to impose the very moral accountability which certain scientists seek to avoid, the intellectual insists upon his right to direct the affairs of a recalcitrant scientist.


b. moral virtue occasionally occurs in contradistinction to the ‘Christian virtues’ (Faith, Hope, Charity), or as restricted to such virtues as may be attained without the aid of religion.

1598 R. Barckley Felic. Man (1631) 713 To pray to God.‥ That He will endue us with vertues both Morall and Christian. a1686 T. Watson Body of Div. (1692) 979 Moral Vertue may stand with the hatred of Godliness. 1791 Bp. Horne Charge to Clergy 14 Cold inanimate Lectures on moral virtue, independent of christianity.


c. Of knowledge, opinions, judgements, etc.: Relating to the nature and application of the distinction between right and wrong. (Cf. sense 2.)

1500–20 Dunbar Poems lxv. 2 To speik‥Off vertew, morall cwnnyng, or doctrine [etc.]. 1752 Chesterfield Lett. to Son 6 Jan., If the religious and moral principles of this society [sc. the Jesuits] are to be detested. 1817 Coleridge Biogr. Lit. I. x. 213 My essays contributed to introduce the practice of placing the questions and events of the day in a moral point of view. 1860 Mill Repr. Govt. (1865) 6/2 It was not by any change in the distribution of material interests, but by the spread of moral convictions, that negro slavery has been put an end to in the British Empire. 1879 Geo. Eliot Theo. Such xvi, A correct moral judgment is the strong point in woman. 1883 W. James Let. 23 Jan. in R. B. Perry Tht. & Char. W. James (1935) I. 389 Although from a moral point of view your sympathy commands my warmest thanks, from the intellectual point of view, it seems, first, to suppose that I am a bachelor [etc.]. 1951 C. Day Lewis Poet's Task 19 As an aesthetic judgement this is so bizarre that one can only take it for a moral judgement. 1972 Jrnl. Social Psychol. LXXXVI. 158 The mean moral judgment quotient for girls was slightly higher than that for boys.


d. moral sense: the power of apprehending the difference between right and wrong, esp. when viewed as an innate and unanalysable faculty of the human mind. Similarly moral faculty.

1699 Shaftesbury Inq. Virtue i. iii. §1 in Charac. (1711) II. 41 The taking away the natural Sense of Right and Wrong. Marg. Loss of Moral Sense. 1754 Edwards Freed. Will i. v. (1831) 43 To moral agency belongs a moral faculty, or sense of moral good and evil. 1827 Whately Logic (1837) 380 The Moral faculty‥is one of which brutes are destitute. 1885 J. Martineau Types Eth. Th. II. 93 Bentham describes the moral-sense-man as a sort of bully, intent on brow-beating men into accepting the verdict he wants them to pronounce. 1901 Baldwin Dict. Philos. s.v. Moral Sense, The term ‘moral sense writers’ is now commonly used to denote a succession of English moralists, of whom Shaftesbury and Hutcheson were the chief.


e. Of feelings: Arising from the contemplation of an action, character, etc., as good or bad.

1768 Sterne Sent. Journ. (1778) I. 134 (Amiens), With what a moral delight will it crown my journey. 1837 M. Donovan Dom. Econ. II. 45 To those who have got over the moral disgust of such food [viz. human flesh], it‥has recommendatory qualities. 1871 Morley Voltaire (1886) 8 Perhaps a moral relish for veritable proofs of honesty‥drives men to grasp even a crudity with fervour.


f. Of concepts or terms: Involving ethical praise or blame.

1845 Whewell Elem. Morality I. 238 The Supreme Standard‥is expressed by the Moral Ideas, Benevolence, Justice, Truth, Purity, and Wisdom. 1865 J. Grote Moral Ideals (1876) 108 Those words, like all moral words, by frequent complimentary use‥have lost much of their warmth and force. 1892 Westcott Gospel of Life 216 The distinctness of moral conceptions will correspond with the growth of the race.


2. a. Treating of or concerned with virtue and vice, or the rules of right conduct, as a subject of study. (Cf. 1c.)
moral philosophy: the department of philosophy which treats of the virtues and vices, the criteria of right and wrong, the rightness or wrongness of particular classes of actions, the methods to be adopted for the formation of virtuous character, and the like; ethical philosophy, ethics. Formerly often employed in a wider sense, including psychology and metaphysics. moral philosopher: one who studies or is versed in moral philosophy. moral science has in recent times been used in the same senses as ‘moral philosophy’. the moral sciences is sometimes used (e.g. at Cambridge) as a comprehensive name for a branch of academic study including psychology, ethics, political and economic science, and in fact all that is now commonly understood by the term ‘philosophy’. Also attrib. as in moral sciences tripos.

1387 T. Usk Test. Love iii. i. (Skeat) l. 53 Philosophie, with her three speces, that is, natural, and moral, and resonable. 1398 Trevisa Barth. De P.R. i. (1495) 3 Deuowte doctours of Theologye‥for this consyderacyon‥rede and vse natural philosophye and morall. 1531 Elyot Gov. i. xi, Hit were nedefull to rede unto hym‥that parte that may enforme him unto vertuous maners, whiche parte of philosophie is called morall. 1600 J. Pory tr. Leo's Africa iii. 151 Certaine learned men, which will haue themselues called wizards and morall philosophers. 1606 Shakes. Tr. & Cr. ii. ii. 167 Young men, whom Aristotle thought Vnfit to heare Morall Philosophie. 1651 Hobbes Leviath. i. xv. 79 Morall philosophy is nothing else but the Science of what is Good, and Evill. 1785 Paley Mor. Philos. i. i. 1 Moral Philosophy, Morality, Ethics, Casuistry, Natural Law, mean all the same thing. 1791 Bp. Horne Charge to Clergy 14 Morality‥hath four chief virtues, which moral writers have well explained. 1828 G. Payne (title) Elements of Mental and Moral Science. 1830 Mackintosh Eth. Philos. Introd. (1862) 8 The purpose of the Moral Sciences is to answer the question What ought to be? a1866 J. Grote Exam. Utilit. Philos. iv. (1870) 61 A description as complete and beautiful, I think, as is to be found in any moral writings. 1866 Students' Guide Univ. Cambr. 162 The establishment of a Philosophical or Moral Sciences Tripos in the year 1851. 1870 H. Spencer First Princ. ii. i. §36 Under the head of Moral Philosophy, we treat of human actions as right or wrong.


b. moral theology: (a) the practical part of ethics treated as a branch of theology; the part of theological learning which is concerned with the resolution of cases of conscience; casuistry, casuistic divinity; (b) see quot. 1902.

1727–41 in Chambers Cycl. 1883 in Catholic Dict. 1902 Baldwin Dict. Philos., Moral Theology, the doctrines of theology developed as postulates of the moral as distinguished from the logico-speculative reason.


c. moral psychology: psychology concerned with the psychological effect of rules of conduct, esp. the sense of virtue and vice, upon behaviour. Hence moral-psychological adj.

1859 J. Martineau in National Rev. IX. 504 Does an author, who has so distinguished himself in Logical psychology,‥doubt that there is also a Moral psychology? a1865 J. Grote Treat. Moral Ideals (1876) xiii. 297 Moral psychology endeavours to co-ordinate individual experiences. 1867 Mill Exam. Hamilton's Philos. (ed. 3) xxvi. 586 This vital truth in moral psychology, that we can improve our character if we will. 1946 Mind LV. 189 His interest in moral psychology and the empirical facts of the moral life remained. 1963 J. Wiesenfarth Henry James ii. 51 This is precisely the decision that climaxes her coming to grips with the moral-psychological problem in the novel. 1972 J. Rawls Theory of Justice §29. 181 The parties must consider the general facts of moral psychology.


3. a. Of a person, esp. a writer: That enunciates moral precepts. ? Obs. In early quots. applied to writers of allegory.

c1374 Chaucer Troylus v. 1856 O moral Gower þis boke I directe To the. c1430 Lydg. Min. Poems (Percy Soc.) 25 The tragidés diverse and unkouth Of morall Senec. 1599 Shakes. Much Ado v. i. 30 'Tis all mens office, to speake patience To those that wring vnder the load of sorrow: But no mans vertue nor sufficiencie To be so morall, when he shall endure The like himselfe. 1718 Prior Picture of Seneca, While cruel Nero only drains The moral Spaniard's ebbing Veins. 1742 Young Nt. Th. v. 319 Let us read Her moral stone. Ibid. ix. 534 The moral muse has shadow'd out a sketch.


b. Of a literary work, a pictorial or dramatic representation, etc.: That deals with or treats of the ruling of conduct; that has the teaching of morality as its motive; that conveys a moral; also, †allegorical, emblematical. moral play (obs. exc. Hist.) = morality 4b.

c1386 Chaucer Melib. Prol. 22 It is a moral tale vertuous. c1400 tr. Secreta Secret., Gov. Lordsh. 48 He [Alexander] made many morales epistels to Aristotel. a1500 Everyman (1773), Here begynneth a treatyse‥in maner of a moralle playe. 1526 Pilgr. Perf. (W. de W. 1531) 2 They shal haue therby a lyght to perceyue the better all moral matter, that they shall here preched or taught. 1607 Shakes. Timon i. i. 90 A thousand morall Paintings I can shew, That shall demonstrate these quicke blowes of Fortunes, More pregnantly then words. 1660 F. Brooke tr. Le Blanc's Trav. 272 We had the pleasure there to see a morall representation of the Magdalens conversion. 1726 Swift Gulliver ii. vii, From this way of reasoning the author drew several moral applications useful in the Conduct of Life. 1744 Pope's Wks. (ed. Warburton 1755) III. 105 (title) Moral Essays, in four epistles to Several Persons. 1784 Cowper Tiroc. 126 Lisping our syllables, we scramble next Through moral narrative, or sacred text. 1789 Mrs. Piozzi Journ. France I. 115 To what purpose then‥the moral dances, as they call them now? One word of solid instruction to the ear, conveys more knowledge to the mind at last, than all these marionettes presented to the eye. 1831 J. P. Collier Hist. Dram. Poetry II. 384 John Heywood's dramatic productions‥are neither Miracle-plays nor Moral-plays. 1873 Browning Red Cott. Nt.-cap 171 The late death-chamber, tricked with‥Skulls, cross-bones, and such moral broidery.
Comb. 1798 Edgeworth Pract. Educ. (1822) I. 427 A tragedy heroine‥is a moral-picturesque object.


c. Of a literary work: Beneficial in moral effect.

1671 Milton Samson Introd., Tragedy‥hath been ever held the gravest, moralest, and most profitable of all other Poems.


d. moral tutor: a university tutor appointed to have a particular concern for the moral well-being of a student. Hence moral pupil.

1932 Oxf. Univ. Handbk. i. 130 In some colleges an undergraduate is assigned for all his time to a ‘moral tutor’, who is often not the tutor to whom he is going for his reading, but one who undertakes to keep in touch with him during his career and to help and advise him generally in his life. 1963 J. I. M. Stewart Last Tresilians xiv. 106 That's Leech, the Pro-Provost. He's my moral tutor. 1966 Rep. Comm. Inquiry Univ. Oxf. II. 383 Plus £1 per moral pupil other than those for whom a fellow is tutorially responsible. Ibid., Paid to 16 moral tutors. 1969 V. de S. Pinto City that Shone xi. 249 Jackie would continue to be my ‘moral tutor’, but‥my ‘English tutor’ would be Mr Percy Simpson.


4. moral law: the body of requirements in conformity to which right or virtuous action consists; a particular requirement of this kind. Opposed to ‘positive’ or ‘instituted’ laws, the obligation of which depends solely on the fact that they have been imposed by a rightful authority. Also moral code, moral norm, moral order, moral rule, moral system.
In early use chiefly applied to that part of the Mosaic Law which enunciates moral principles, and therefore, unlike the ‘ceremonial’ and ‘judicial’ parts, remains valid under the Christian dispensation. So moral commandment, etc.

c1380 Wyclif Wks. (1880) 366 Siþ þat moyses lawe is moralle in þis poynte,‥criste myȝte not distroy þes lawis. a1450 Wyclif's Bible Prol. ii, The old testament is departid‥in to moral comaundementis, iudicials, and cerimonyals. 1551 [see judicial a. 1b]. 1606 Shakes. Tr. & Cr. ii. ii. 184 If Helen then be wife to Sparta's King‥these Morall Lawes Of Nature, and of Nation, speake alowd To haue her backe return'd. 1640 Bastwick Lord Bps. viii. Hiijb, If the Prelates shall pronounce the 4th Commandement not to be Morall for the sanctifying of a Seventh day. 1645 Milton Tetrach. Wks. 1851 IV. 215 The firmenesse of such right to divorce as here pleads, is fetcht from the prime institution, does not stand or fall with the judiciall Law, but is as morall as what is moralest. 1667 —— P.L. xii. 298. 1690 Locke Hum. Und. i. iii. 15, I think it will be hard to instance any one moral rule. 1819 [see judicial a. 1b]. 1851 H. Spencer Soc. Stat. i. 55 The moral law must be the law of the perfect man. 1876 L. Stephen Eng. Th. 18th C. II. ix. 5 Hobbes‥audaciously identified the moral with the positive law. 1927 Amer. Jrnl. Sociol. XXXII. 736 The same forces which co-operate to create the characteristic social organization and the accepted moral order of a given society or social group determine at the same time‥the character of the individuals who compose that society. 1931 H. S. Walpole Judith Paris ii. ii. 240 A rather blowzy red-cheeked lady, who‥had a warm heart but an uncertain moral code. 1951 R. Firth Elem. Social Organiz. vi. 185 The effective standard of judgement‥has appeared to be the recognition of offences against a moral code of behaviour. Ibid. 187 The moral rules to be found in different types of society. Ibid. 202 Divergence from the Western moral norms is seen much more widely in infanticide. Ibid. 213 A moral system‥includes the idea of an elaborate interlocking set of judgements. 1957 P. Worsley Trumpet shall Sound 250 The role of ritual obscenity as providing an occasion for the statement and reinforcement of moral norms is well known from many societies. 1958 R. C. Angell Free Society & Moral Crisis ii. 16 The most basic—though not the most tangible—aspect of the moral order is the set of common values that motivates the members of a society. 1970 G. A. & A. G. Theodorson Mod. Dict. Sociol. 264 The various moral systems of the world may include many of the same moral ideas.


5. Of rights, obligations, responsibility, etc.: Founded on the moral law; valid according to the principles of morality. Opposed to legal.

1690 Locke Hum. Und. ii. xxviii. §3 Sometimes the foundation of considering things, with reference to one another, is some act whereby any one comes by a moral right, power, or obligation to do something. 1736 Butler Anal. ii. 403 Our obligation to attend to his voice is surely moral in all cases. 1818 Cruise Digest (ed. 2) I. 178 Dower is not only a civil, but also a moral right. Ibid. IV. 584 There is one case in which a conveyance, founded on a moral consideration only, has been held good against a subsequent purchaser. 1882 Morley Cobden xix. (1902) 71/1 Cobden thus strove to diffuse the sense of moral responsibility in connexion with the use of capital.


6. a. Of actions: Subject to the moral law; having the property of being right or wrong. the moral world: the sphere or region of moral action.

1594 Hooker Eccl. Pol. i. xvi. §3 The axiomes of that lawe‥haue their vse in the morall, yea, euen in the spirituall actions of men. 1690 Locke Hum. Und. ii. xxviii. §4 There is another sort of relation, which is the conformity or disagreement men's voluntary actions have to a rule to which they are referred, and by which they are judged of; which, I think, may be called moral relation, as being that which denominates our moral actions. 1809–10 Coleridge Friend (1866) 278 To possess the end in the means, as it is essential to morality in the moral world, and the contra-distinction of goodness from mere prudence, so is it, in the intellectual world, the moral constituent of genius.


b. Of an agent or his attributes: Capable of moral action; capable of volition for the rightness of which he is responsible.

1736 Butler Anal. i. iii. Wks. 1874 I. 58 That God has given us a moral nature‥[is] a proof of our being under his moral government. 1754 Edwards Freed. Will. i. v. (1831) 43 A moral agent is a being that is capable of those actions that have a moral quality. 1802 Paley Nat. Theol. xxvii. (1819) 485 The moral and accountable part of his terrestrial creation. 1868 Bain Ment. & Mor. Sci. 403 Every creature possessing mind is a moral agent. 1887 J. A. C. Morison Service Man (1889) 84 Good and bad men, whose goodness and badness depends on their moral endowment.


7. a. Pertaining to, affecting, or operating on the character or conduct, as distinguished from the intellectual or physical nature of human beings. moral suasion: see suasion 1b.

1597 Hooker Eccl. Pol. v. lvii. §4 Sacraments‥are not physicall but morall instruments of saluation, duties of seruice and worship. 1599 Shakes. Much Ado i. iii. 13, I wonder that thou‥goest about to apply a morall medicine to a mortifying mischiefe. 1659 H. Thorndike Wks. (1846) II. 539, I acknowledge the Scriptures to be an instrument of God, though a moral instrument. 1727–41 Chambers Cycl. s.v. Necessity, The schools distinguish a physical necessity, and a moral necessity.‥ Moral Necessity is only a great difficulty; such as that arising from a long habit, a strong inclination or violent passion. 1742 Young Nt. Th. ii. 46 For what calls thy disease, Lorenzo? not For Esculapian, but for moral aid. Ibid. v. 284 I'll‥gather ev'ry thought of sov'reign power To chace the moral maladies of man. Ibid. vi. 814 'Tis moral grandeur makes the mighty man. 1780 Cowper Progr. Err. 272 'Tis not alone the grape's enticing juice Unnerves the moral pow'rs, and mars their use. 1823 Cobbett Rur. Rides (1885) I. 291 There is now very little moral hold which the latter [the clergy] possess. 1823 D'Israeli Cur. Lit. Ser. ii. I. 183 The art of curing moral disorders by corporeal means has not yet been brought into general practice. 1833 J. C. Prichard in Cycl. Pract. Med. II. 826/2 Moral insanity, or madness consisting in a morbid perversion of the natural feelings,‥and moral dispositions, without any notable lesion of the intellect. 1841 Thoreau Jrnl. 19 Feb. in Writings (1906) VII. 217 It is a moral force as well as he. 1851 Edin. Rev. XCIII. 225 The only effect produced was a kind of amicable splitting of the repeal party into two co-operative factions,—the moral-force men and the physical-force men. 1851 H. Spencer Soc. Stat. i. 58 Just so it is with a true morality.‥ Its office is simply to expound the principles of moral health.‥ Whether it is possible to develope scientifically a Moral Pathology and a Moral Therapeutics seems very doubtful. 1868 Bain Ment. & Mor. Sci. 395 Moral Inability expresses the insufficiency of ordinary motives, but not of all motives. 1913 Act 3 & 4 Geo. V c. 28 §1 Moral imbeciles; that is to say, persons who from an early age display some permanent mental defect coupled with strong vicious or criminal propensities. 1927 Act 17 & 18 Geo. V c. 33 §1 Moral defectives, that is to say, persons in whose case there exists mental defectiveness coupled with strongly vicious or criminal propensities and who require care, supervision and control for the protection of others. 1951 R. Firth Elem. Social Organiz. vi. 213 It is in the capacity to generate and adapt moral force that man derives one of the most potent springs to social action. 1952 R. M. Hare Lang. Morals i. iv. 71 If, when we did as we were told, the total effects of our so doing‥were always such as we would not have chosen‥then we should‥work out our own salvation or become moral defectives. 1967 D. J. West Young Offender v. 106 A paper‥seeking to prove the moral imbecility of habitual criminals. 1968 Listener 26 Sept. 408/1 ‘Moral insanity’ was superseded by ‘moral imbecility’; this in turn gave way to ‘psychopathic personality’ (which had developed out of ‘constitutional psychopathic inferiority’).


b. moral cause: see quot. (Cf. cause n. 5.)

1697 tr. Burgersdicius his Logic i. xvii. 63 Author, here is said to be him who proposing Reasons, persuades the principal Cause either to, or from Action: He is also call'd the Moral Cause.


c. Applied to the indirect effect of some action or event (e.g. a victory or defeat) in producing confidence or discouragement, sympathy or hostility, and the like. moral support: support or help the effect of which is psychological rather than physical. moral victory: applied to a defeat or an indecisive result which it is claimed will, on account of special circumstances, produce the moral effects of a victory.

1835 Alison Hist. Europe (1849–50) V. xxxi. §17. 310 The loss to the contending parties was nearly equal;‥but all the moral advantages of a victory were on the side‥of the French. 1860 Mill Repr. Govt. (1865) 61 The instructed minority would, in the actual voting, count only for their numbers, but as a moral power they would count for much more. 1883 C. J. Wills Mod. Persia 111 Armenian‥scowls staggering along in secure insolence, confident in the moral protection given him by the presence of the Englishman. 1885 Daily Chron. 23 Jan. 4/8 Italy on her side will on all occasions offer moral support to England in her Egyptian policy. 1888 Times 13 June 6/1 His idea was that the moral effect of artillery fire was greater than the positive. 1896 Daily News 14 Nov. 7/4 One had gained an actual victory, and the other had gained a moral victory. 1921 W. S. Maugham Circle i. 19 You were rather scared.‥ I thought I'd come and give you a little moral support. 1926 F. M. Ford Man could stand Up i. ii. 37 He needed her moral support! 1968 ‘M. Carroll’ Dead Trouble iii. 44 Where were you? Couldn't you have given me some moral support? 1973 J. Burrows Like an Evening Gone i. 7 She had it all worked out. All she wanted from her husband was a little moral support.


d. moral courage: that kind of courage which enables a person to encounter odium, disapproval, or contempt, rather than depart from what he deems the right course: contradistinguished from physical courage. Similarly moral fibre; esp. in phr. lack of moral fibre, used euphem. for lack of courage. Cf. LMF s.v. L7.

1822 C. Colton Lacon (1825) I. 44 Hypocrisy‥sometimes neutralized his [Cromwell's] moral courage, never his physical. 1860 Fitzjames Stephen Ess. (1862) 175 Moral courage is readiness to expose oneself to suffering or inconvenience which does not affect the body. It arises from firmness of moral principle, and is independent of the physical constitution. 1884 Boy's Own Paper 11 Oct. 18/2 Fanshawe was a boy in whom bad instincts had been nourished by his training, and who, from constant lack of moral fibre, had gradually deteriorated. 1887 [see courage 4]. 1942 [see grounded ppl. a.1 8]. 1960 Times 11 Jan. 13/6 Fail to register for the cut-price course in foundry management and clearly you are lacking in moral fibre. 1970 L. Deighton Events Last Flight R.A.F. Bomber xvii. 263 The R.A.F. authorities‥would stamp the words ‘lack of moral fibre’ across the man's documents‥and send him away‥an officially recognized coward. 1973 K. Royce Spider Underground iii. 52 She was tough all right, of high moral fibre.


e. moral turpitude: conduct considered depraved; an instance of such conduct.

1879 [see turpitude 1a]. 1931 J. P. Clark Deportation of Aliens from U.S. to Europe v. 165 An alien convicted of stealing $15 in Massachusetts was held subject to deportation because of conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude.


f. Moral Rearmament: a religious group founded by the American evangelist Frank Buchman (1878–1961); the beliefs or practices of this group; = Buchmanism. Abbrev. M.R.A. (q.v.). Also transf. and fig. So Moral Rearmer.

1938 Times 2 Nov. 6/4 Moral rearmament, which is the true basis of national fitness, is an individual responsibility. 1940 Earl of Athlone et al. Moral Re-Armament 3 Moral Re-Armament stands for a change of heart, for that new spirit which must animate all human relationships. 1940 N. Mitford Pigeon Pie iii. 55 Luke had been guided to ask a hundred people to dinner‥to talk about Moral Rearmament. Ibid. iv. 80 If the British people had gone all out for moral rearmament and real appeasement, things need never have reached this pass. 1951 V. A. Demant What is happening to Us? iii. 22 The Emperor Augustus tried to save the civilization of Ancient Rome by reviving the old cults‥and the poet Horace‥wrote his lovely Odes to help in this older version of ‘Moral Rearmament’. 1956 A. Huxley Adonis & Alphabet 118 For their campaigns, the Moral Rearmers have a whole arsenal of Christian Oklahomas and ethical Cats on Hot Tin Roofs. 1961 [see Buchmanism]. 1969 Guardian 20 June 10/4 Senator Ralph Vibert, an advocate and a Moral Re-Armer. 1973 Ibid. 11 June 11/6 We were made to confess all our weaknesses.‥ It was like Moral Re-Armament.


8. a. Of, pertaining to, or concerned with the morals (of a person or a community). Also (occas.), pertaining to the ‘morale’ of an army.

1794 Paley Evid. i. v. §4 (1817) 97 The phrases which the same writer employs to describe the moral condition of Christians compared with their condition before they became Christians. 1818 Hallam Mid. Ages ix. (1868) 700 note, His standard is taken, not from Avignon, but from Edinburgh,‥where the moral barometer stands at a very different altitude. 1844 H. H. Wilson Brit. India I. 545 He quoted largely from a memoir on the Moral State of India by Mr. Grant. 1848 W. K. Kelly tr. L. Blanc's Hist. Ten Y. I. 382 The moral interests of society seemed still more compromised than the material. 1889 D. Hannay Capt. Marryat 38 The squadron was in an indifferent moral condition, divided by sour professional factions, and impatient of its Admiral.


b. moral welfare: see quot. 1965.

1927 8th Ann. Rep. Archbishops' Advisory Board Preventive & Rescue Work 9 The League of Nations Report on the Traffic in Women and Children‥has awakened an interest in moral welfare work that is bound to help in arousing the public conscience against prostitution. 1944 A. Thirkell Headmistress x. 211 Doing wonders with her Moral Welfare Committee. 1965 Hall & Howes Church in Social Work 2 ‘Moral welfare’ is a term which‥appears to have come into general use during the inter-war period to designate the social work in relation to sex, marriage and the family.


9. a. moral sense or moral interpretation: originally, that mode of interpreting a passage of Holy Scripture which treats of the events recorded as typical of something in the life of the Christian soul. (Now chiefly Hist.) †Hence transf. applied to the ‘moral’ of a fable and the like.

1503 Hawes Examp. Virt. ix. 10, I‥lykened the wyldernes by morall scence Vnto worldely trouble by good experyence. 1572 Huloet s.v., The morall sence of a fable, epimythium. 1599 Shakes. Much Ado iii. iv. 80 Morall? no by my troth, I haue no morall meaning, I meant plaine holy thissell. 1609 Bible (Douay) Gen. i. 1 Comm., There are three spiritual senses besides the literal‥: Allegorical‥ Moral‥and Anagogical.
quasi-adv. 1529 More Supplic. Soulys Wks. 322/1 Because som doctours do conster those wordes of the apostle in diuers other senses,‥sometyme after the letter, sometime moral, & sometime otherwyse.


b. Qualifying a descriptive noun: That is such in a metaphorical sense relative to moral character or condition.

1692 R. L'Estrange Fables I. cccxxviii. 286 If all our Moral Wolves in Sheeps-Cloathing, were but Serv'd as This Hypocritical Wolfe was in the Fiction. 1813 Shelley Q. Mab ii. 163 Where Athens, Rome, and Sparta stood, There is a moral desert now. 1819 —— Peter Bell 3rd iv. xi, But from the first 'twas Peter's drift To be a kind of moral eunuch. 1821 Scott Kenilw. xxx, Varney was one of the few—the very few moral monsters, who contrive to lull to sleep the remorse of their own bosoms. 1848 Thackeray Van. Fair xxxvii, I mean a moral shepherd's dog.‥ A dog to keep the wolves off me.‥ A companion. 1852 Mundy Our Antipodes (1857) 18 Sufferers for the sins of their fathers, moral bastards. 1894 Gladstone in Times 9 Nov. 7/5 In my opinion‥an undenominational system of religion, framed by or under the authority of the State, is a moral monster.


10. a. Of persons, their habits, conduct, etc.: Morally good; conforming to the rules of morality.

1638 Sir T. Herbert Trav. (ed. 2) 233 Morall men they are, and humane in language and garbe. 1697 Dryden Æneid Ded. (a) 3 Your Essay of Poetry‥I read over and over with much delight,‥and, without flattering you, or making my self more Moral than I am, not without some envy. 1700 —— Fables Pref., My enemies‥will not allow me so much as to be a Christian, or a moral man. 1781 Cowper Conversat. 193 A moral, sensible, and well-bred man Will not affront me. 1841 Myers Cath. Th. iv. §23. 293 A man may be Moral without being Religious, but he cannot be Religious without being Moral. 1868 Ruskin Arrows of Chace (1880) II. 199 A man taught to plough, row or steer well‥[is] already educated in many essential moral habits.


b. with reference to ‘moral’ as opposed to ‘evangelical’ virtue (cf. 1b).

a1686 T. Watson Body of Div. (1692) 979 A Moral Man doth as much hate Holiness as he doth Vice. 1824 Hogg Conf. Sinner 197 A Mr. Blanchard, who was reckoned a worthy, pious divine, but quite of the moral cast.


c. Virtuous with regard to sexual conduct. moral restraint: see quot. 1803–6.

1803 Malthus Popul. iv. i. 483 The various checks to population‥seem all to be resolvable into moral restraint, vice, and misery. 1806 Ibid. I. i. i. 19 note, By moral restraint I‥mean a restraint from marriage, from prudential motives, with a conduct strictly moral. 1820 Shelley Œd. Tyr. i. 74 Spay those Sows That load the earth with Pigs‥Moral restraint I see has no effect. 1879 Geo. Eliot Theo. Such xvi, Sir Gavial‥is a thoroughly moral man.‥ Very different from Mr. Barabbas, whose life‥is most objectionable, with actresses and that sort of thing. Ibid., Yet I find even respectable historians‥after showing that a king was treacherous, rapacious [etc.]‥end by praising him for his pure moral character.


d. Of a tale, etc.: Conforming to morality; not ribald or vicious. (Cf. 3b.)

c1386 Chaucer Pard. Prol. 39 Nay lat hym telle vs of no ribaudye; Telle vs som moral thyng þat we may leere Som wit. 1780 Cowper Table-t. 599 But still, while virtue kindled his delight, The song was moral, and so far was right.


11. Used to designate that kind of probable evidence that rests on a knowledge of the general tendencies of human nature, or of the character of particular individuals or classes of men; often in looser use, applied to all evidence which is merely probable and not demonstrative. moral certainty: a practical certainty resulting from moral evidence; a degree of probability so great as to admit of no reasonable doubt; also, something which is morally certain. moral universality: see quot. 1727–41.
This use of the word is prob. ultimately connected with Aristotle's ἠθικὴ πίστις, which means the effect of the known personal character of an orator in producing conviction.


The currency of the terms certitudo, evidentia moralis appears to be due to the Cartesian logicians of the 17th c.

1646 Moral certainty [see certainty 5]. 1660 Jer. Taylor Duct. Dubit. i. v. Rule i. §6 The Negative doubt is either Metaphysical or Moral, or it is only a Suspicion. a1677 Hale Prim. Orig. Man. ii. i. 128 Though the evidence be still in its own nature but moral, and not simply demonstrative or infallible. 1664 Tillotson Wisdom of being Religious 25 Conclusions in Natural Philosophy are to be proved by a sufficient Induction of experiments; things of a moral nature by moral Arguments, and matters of Fact by credible Testimony. 1692 R. L'Estrange Fables ccxci. 254 He‥so Parts with a Moral Certainty in Possession, for a Wild and a Remote Possibility in Reversion. 1725 Watts Logic ii. ii. §9 In Matters of Faith, an exceeding great Probability is called a moral Certainty. 1727–41 Chambers Cycl. s.v. Universality, Moral Universality, is that which admits of some exception.‥ In such-like propositions, it is enough that the thing be ordinarily so. a1754 Fielding Conversat. Wks. 1784 IX. 373 When your guest offers to go, there should be no solicitations to stay‥farther than to give him a moral assurance of his being welcome so to do. 1864 Bowen Logic xii. 378 The inference is rightly said to rest upon moral, or probable, evidence. 1868 Freeman Norm. Conq. (1877) II. ix. 430 Was the succession of Harold merely a likelihood, a moral certainty?


12. In etymological sense: Pertaining to manners and customs. Obs. rare.

1604 E. G[rimstone] (title) The Naturall and Morall Historie of the East and West Indies.‥ Written in Spanish by Ioseph Acosta.