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After characterizing ethics and defending its autonomy as philosophical theory, the paper shows the relationship between analytic ethics and history of ethics throughout the last century, emphasizing the shift of most recent ethical theory in the direction of a more positive attitude towards the ethical tradition. Although Italian philosophy does neglect, with few exceptions, ethical theory, Carlo Augusto Viano deals in many occasions with ethical questions both in historical and theoretical perspective. His stance is nevertheless an external, critical one.