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What is the Difference Between Ethics and Morals?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 23, 2024
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The difference between ethics and morals can seem somewhat arbitrary to many, but there is a basic, albeit subtle, difference. Morals define personal character, while ethics stress a social system in which those morals are applied. In other words, ethics point to standards or codes of behavior expected by the group to which the individual belongs. This could be national ethics, social ethics, company ethics, professional ethics, or even family ethics. So while a person’s moral code is usually unchanging, the ethics he or she practices can be other-dependent.

When considering the difference between ethics and morals, it may be helpful to consider a criminal defense lawyer. Though the lawyer’s personal moral code likely finds murder immoral and reprehensible, ethics demand the accused client be defended as vigorously as possible, even when the lawyer knows the party is guilty and that a freed defendant would potentially lead to more crime. Legal ethics must override personal morals for the greater good of upholding a justice system in which the accused are given a fair trial and the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The prosecution and court must also deal with the difference between ethics and morals. In some cases past actions of the accused might resonate with the current charge, but are kept out of evidence so as not to prejudice the jury. In a sense, the prosecutor “lies by omission” in representing the case, never revealing the prejudicial evidence. The same prosecutor, however, would likely find it reprehensible to fail to tell a friend if her date had a potentially dangerous or suspect history.

Another area in which ethics and morals can clash is at the workplace where company ethics can play against personal morality. Corporate greed that blurs its own ethical lines coupled with unreasonable demands on time can lead to having to choose between a stressful, demanding and consuming work ethic, and family obligations seen as moral obligations to spouse and children. Conversely, people lose jobs every day because of poor personal morals, employee theft being a common reason for dismissal.

In society, we are all faced with the butting heads of ethics and morals. Abortion is legal and therefore medically ethical, while many people find it personally immoral. Fundamentalists, extremists, and even mainstream theists all have different ideas about morality that impact each of our lives, even if indirectly through social pressures or legal discrimination.

In the case of homosexuality, many believe it is morally wrong, yet some of the same people also believe it is unethical to discriminate legally against a group of people by disallowing them the same rights afforded heterosexuals. This is a plain example of ethics and morals at battle. Ethics and morals are central issues as the world strives to overcome current challenges and international crossroads. Hopefully, in the coming years, a growing understanding will lead to peaceful and productive solutions.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon985457 — On Jan 15, 2015

Any lying defense lawyer who knows his/her defendant is guilty but pushes for the defendant's innocence should be ashamed of his/her self.

By anon969250 — On Sep 08, 2014

The writer has neglected to mention that though 'morals' may indeed refer to the individual, 'morality' takes on the a collective meaning similar to how the writer defines ethics. Thus the contrast becomes meaningless because the form 'morals' was used instead of 'morality'.

By anon930782 — On Feb 06, 2014

So basically, morals are a personal code of conduct. Ethics are inter-personal or social codes of conduct.

In Yoga, Yam is non-injuring, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy/moderation in sex, and non-greediness/non-possessiveness are ethics.

Niyam is cleanliness, happiness, austerity, studying oneself and surrendering to God. These are morals.

By anon342657 — On Jul 23, 2013

An ethical man follows, while a moral man acts.

By anon335446 — On May 20, 2013

Never fail to acknowledge the ways in which cultural bias changes the 'idea' or 'understanding' of ethics and morality. Even in Aristotle's time, the beginning of ethical thinking, cultural bias could have argued against other perceived notions of the difference between ethics and morals. But for every one thought, there is one who had such a thought prior, and the same thought prior to each and every thought beforehand.

By anon331047 — On Apr 20, 2013

Ethics, derived from the Greek root ethos, is the disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person. Morals, derived from the Latin root mores, are the norms widely observed by a community.

I agree with everything, but your vocabulary needs a switch.

By anon325431 — On Mar 16, 2013

The initiation of aggression is always wrong. All human interaction can be voluntary. That is the number one most important moral of them all. The ethic of that would be for people to live in a true anarchist society. Government is only people providing services on a violent compulsory basis. If those services are so valuable why can't they provide them like normal people do on a non-compulsory basis. A tax is money taken at gunpoint. What's self defense again?

By anon306638 — On Nov 30, 2012

Baruch Spinoza and Gilles Deleuze (1988) both wrote books on the distinction between morals and ethics. "Spinoza, Practical Philosophy" City Lights Books.

By anon300713 — On Oct 31, 2012

Completely misleading. The better way to parse the difference between morality and ethics is to say that morality is the common, everyday evaluation of whether a behavior is socially acceptable. Ethics is the critical reflection on personal and social morality. Groups and societies have moral expectations just as individuals have moral judgments.

Equating morality with the individual and ethics with society makes it impossible to see that some social arrangements are immoral and that groups as a whole can be morally wrong.

Everyone (except some psychopaths) has a moral sense. But not everyone has a sense of ethics (thinks critically about their moral intuitions and emotions).

By anon297404 — On Oct 15, 2012

The main three questions posed by philosophy are 1)What is reality? 2)How do we know what we know? 3) Given what we know, what should we do?

These questions correlate to these three branches of philosophy as 1)Metaphysics, 2)Epistemology, and 3)Ethics. Hence, ethics are about the philosophical process of answering 'Given what we know, what should we do?' Morality is the answer.

The philosophical process is approached with varying degrees of capability (logic), various levels of intellectual honesty (integrity), cultural bias, and of course, ever changing knowledge and new situations to deal with.

Consequently, and appropriately, ethics remain in a constant state of change as they attempt to deal with an ever changing world. There for morality changes. too. Humans once came to the ethical conclusion that slavery was OK. (for example, as stated in the Bible). Not long ago, the Founding Fathers came to the ethical conclusion that "All men are created equal," but also chose to persist with the ancient morality justifying slavery.

Only recently has morality caught up with ethics concerning slavery. But the world still has plenty of slavers, slave owners, and slavers. We need to pursue ethics because nothing else will overwrite bad morality with good morality. JRR

By anon260743 — On Apr 12, 2012

There is soemthing about what is said concerning scientific morals: to be patient, a hard worker, seeking the truth and declaring what he finds. After what I saw about morals and ethics here, I think it will be easy to understand what is said about the immortality of politics and international affairs and the worldwide support of corrupt dictators and aggression and injustice, all motivated by interests of the individual, countries, firms, or by fear and ignorance.

This is a very dangerous field of study and it might partially explain the vast contradictions between the constitutions and declared programs and policies of some governments and governors and their criminal practices against their people. Thank you again for this very important field of study. --Kalam G., Sudan

By anon242440 — On Jan 23, 2012

Great article, and I agree with the majority of it, however the line that states, "people lose jobs every day because of poor personal morals," I disagree with completely. It would be because of the poor ethics of the company not the morals of the individual.

Ethics are meant to protect individual rights, and this case would be a poor assessment of that. Ethical lines are often blurred, but morals are concrete. (unless you are a relativist, then morals mean nothing)

By anon200072 — On Jul 25, 2011

To those who insist that there is no difference between morals and ethics, please reread the page definition again. It is clear, accurate and concise.

By anon194094 — On Jul 06, 2011

Hans Küng has spent a lifetime to promote a "global ethic", and drew up the Council of the World's Religions' charter.

By anon172270 — On May 03, 2011

I am writing a paper for a class, and at first, I was clueless to the distinctions of Ethics vs. Morality but reading through the comments has helped me to understand the differences. Thanks to each of you for your comments. My personal understanding is this: ethics are social behaviors and morals are personal in nature, however, each requires integrity.

By anon169802 — On Apr 23, 2011

While reviewing these comments I noticed that participants did not evoke the objective/subjective distinction when discussing the difference between morality and ethics.

There is a tradition of speaking of an objective order, such as "natural law." Actions are judged to be right/wrong in this objective sphere. (Ethics)

There is also the tradition of speaking of a subjective order, i.e., the place (i.e., person) where moral reasoning happens. Such actions are judged to be virtuous/sinful in this sphere. (Morality)

With these distinctions, one can see cases where an ethical action might always be wrong (killing someone) that is not sinful because it was done in order to protect a core principle or virtue (protecting one's life). It's naïve to think that a person can erase ambiguity from most of life's important decisions.

A helpful method to use in making a moral decision respects the human person as the locus of three or four spheres that interrelate: God/faith; self; context; principles. Each sphere contributes to the dialogue that is known as conscience formation.

Trying to use just one or two of these spheres will render a moral judgment that is less than intellectually (and spiritually) honest. There is no guarantee one will make the right decision, but there is the guarantee one can be true to their conscience.

By anon169536 — On Apr 21, 2011

Ethics is knowing what is right and wrong, but choosing to do the right thing. Morals choose to do either the right or wrong thing. KG Nesta

By anon167760 — On Apr 13, 2011

The difference from a moral man and an ethical man: a ethical man knows it is wrong to cheat on his wife, however a moral man wouldn't.

By manbeen — On Apr 08, 2011

My slant on this is quite simple.

Morality concerns our conscience, our sense of what is right or not; and ethics has more to do with a code of conduct - professionally or otherwise.

Ethics says what we can and can't do in the absence of a clear conscience or personal moral code to guide what we do or say in the world.

It's too bad that ethics or morality should have to be so clearly defined. I don't have much trouble defining what the words actually mean. My problem is in seeing any evidence of either of them in government, law and medicine.

By anon162570 — On Mar 24, 2011

The heading article which draws a distinction between public ethics and personal morals is false. This might be true if the person in question accepts the moral instruction from God, and of course that he believes in God.

Dictionaries are rubbish on this issue and fail to draw a practical distinction.

However the distinction that is frequently used in philosophical circles is that morality is a claimed objective and divinely inspired position from a transcendent source, whereas ethics is immanent in human practice and responsive to the contingencies and vicissitudes of living.

Spinoza, in his grand opus "Ethics," makes this distinction, and it is a useful one.

By anon155465 — On Feb 23, 2011

The difference between morals and ethics? None.

Ethics by dictionary definition is moral philosophy. The common misconception is that ethics is defined by a group such as medical ethics. Ethics should apply to everyone in the world. Again, Ethics is the study of Morality.

Morals are generally based on religion but do not have to be. Whereas, ethics are based on philosophy but do not have to be.

Both morality and ethics tell us, or at least attempt to tell us, what we should do, as both individuals and group (all humans worldwide).

You can talk about ethics for medicine as you can talk about algebra for calculus. But algebra is a subject in and of itself.

Usually you will hear religious people talk about morality and professional people talk about ethics.

Morality based on things such as the 10 Commandments, whereas ethics are based on fairness, and acting justly-- basically the same thing.

Ethics does explore societies and tries to answer questions like "Is it fair that old females in Eskimo society are shunned when they lose their teeth and can no longer perform their job of gnawing of seal skin to soften it," for example, for which they would need strong teeth. If it is, then we have Cultural Relativism, which is not a tenant of ethics. Also, if (on an individual basis) Winston Churchill was ethical, when and if, he allowed the city of Coventry to be bombed (without evacuating the citizenry) so it would not tip off the Germans that they (the British) had cracked their code.

So, ethics deals with both the individual and the society (all humans). As does morality. Hence, no difference.

This confusion, I believe, comes from the fact that we are trying to leave religion (or morality) out of, say business or medicine, and it call it ethics. It is ethics but not just for business or medicine.

By anon153249 — On Feb 16, 2011

completely over-analyzed. Ethics is about what ought to be, not what is. Making sense of why you do what you do. Morality is simply good vs evil. Morality comes from environment, symbols, genetics, experiences. Based on how you feel about something, ethics would logically explain your moral decisions.

By Michael Polatis — On Jan 03, 2011

Morals, Morality are natural laws. It is truth that is unchangeable. All natural law has consequences or cause and effect.

Value is a degree to which an individual or group gives acceptance. Value is independent of truth, right or wrong.

Ethics, Ethical is specifically a social system of beliefs or values. Ethics is independent of truth, right or wrong.

Legal is a social system that people often mistake to be synonymous with lawful.

You can "value" anything, then get together with your piers, call it "ethical," legislate and make it "legal." But if it is immoral, the consequences will get you in the end.

Values, ethics and legislation will never clash if they align with moral law.

By anon137332 — On Dec 27, 2010

One big difference between morality and ethics is that ethical actions always involve another entity. For example, I might believe it's immoral to play cards on Sunday. There is no ethical violation if I do so. If, however, I'm using my kid's college fund to do so, then I have acted unethically.

By anon135222 — On Dec 17, 2010

Ethics and morals is something that you inherit from family and ancestors. It is not something you can make. I believe ethics and morals are not for rich people. It is part of the heritage and legacy from family and ancestors. Sometimes, people born that way with somewhat of higher intelligence of morality and ethics. It is something that comes from family and ancestors. But, it depends on the society in which we live. we may learn to use the highest ethics and morals in order not to hurt others and put down. Just to respect them and help them feel good about themselves.

By anon128892 — On Nov 21, 2010

Thanks so much! This helped a bundle in writing my essay.

By anon125314 — On Nov 09, 2010

If I divulge my client's identity to anyone else, it is unethical but not morally wrong. But if I abort a baby, it is immoral but not unethical. From this I conclude that morals are a personal code and ethics are a civil code.

By anon124771 — On Nov 07, 2010

I'm a student, and this discussion really helps me in determining the difference between the two because at first i am clueless.

From what i have read in your comments and from the author himself, I came up with the conclusion that ethics is the distinction between what is right and what is wrong and morality is the degree of how you will behave towards these ethics. Am I right? I want to know. --aleli

By anon121979 — On Oct 26, 2010

@carbo 97: I guess it depends on the situation, for example, i would find it morally right to steal "medicine" if you really needed it, but it's ethically wrong because you are breaking the law. Same goes for lying, and as for cheating, it depends on whether or not your spouse is cheating on you. i would find cheating morally right (that's if your spouse is cheating on you)but ethically wrong because you are in a marriage.

Still i find this differentiation between morals and ethics somewhat correct, especially in the context of homosexuality.

By anon118424 — On Oct 14, 2010

Reading through these comments is a lesson on why America is in crisis. We have so garbled our language that nobody knows what anybody else is talking about.

The author of this topic is supposed to be the smartest person in the room, but he/she failed completely in drawing the distinction between ethics and morality. It is quite simple. Ethics is a philosophical inquiry. Morality is a human characteristic.

The commonality is that ethics is a study of that human characteristic. All humans live by some kind of code that determines right action. Without such code, decision would be impossible. Therefore morality has existed for a million years. Ethics began with Aristotle.

By anon117215 — On Oct 09, 2010

I would add that in contemporary academic philosophy, ethics and morals are normally used as synonyms. Save that, 'ethics' sounds new and fresh, and 'morals' sounds old-fashioned.

Questions of "personal morality", like "is abortion wrong", philosophers consider to be part of ethics, which is also (somewhat old-fashioned) called moral philosophy.

By anon117214 — On Oct 09, 2010

As far as I am concerned, "ethics" and "morals" mean the same thing. I think they have different connotations -- to some at least, "ethics" sounds liberal, open-minded, progressive, while "morals" sounds old-fashioned, traditional, repressive, conservative, etc.

But, not everyone experiences the same connotations (e.g. to me they don't, but I know others to whom they do), and I don't think they change the fact that the underlying meaning of the two words can be the same.

I think the author is right up to a point, that sometimes ethics is used in a more social/professional sense, and morals in a more personal sense. Yet it is also true they are used in a completely equivalent way -- I myself use them as synonyms. I suppose that is because I am not very interested in professional ethics, but rather in more fundamental questions of moral philosophy. I just exchange "moral" and "ethical" as I go along, to stop being repetitive in my writing on these topics.

We need to accept that English is a language inn which words have multiple meanings. In some uses, "moral" and "ethics" mean different things. In other uses, they mean the same thing. Both usages are equally valid. But for myself, I will stick to the synonymous usage.

By anon112662 — On Sep 21, 2010

In reference to comment No49. If you look at what you was said in comment No. 21 it talks about ethics are more individual, while morals are collective. When considering the fact that you got so stuck on the literal definitions such as "custom" I'm honestly glad there are teachers out there like No. 21 and not more like No 49.

No 49, stop trying to be smart only by saying others are wrong. The concluding definitions of morals and ethics are pin pointed in comment No. 21. Although, it seems as though you have both left out a very crucial part of understanding this concept.

If you actually look at the article it talks about company ethics versus personal morality. Organizational morals and ethics are an entirely different spectrum from personal morals and ethics.

An individuals' morals do not change unless in the case of personal dilemma although the morals of a work group can very from each individuals personal morals depending on the moral obligations set forth from the company.

When looking at ethics, the ethics of an individual are solely based on their character and morals. If the individual believes strongly enough in something they will find it as an ethical decision. When a work group comes together their individual morals are set to the side and those moral obligations set by the company are then what define their decisions as ethical or unethical.

By anon107943 — On Sep 01, 2010

I don't agree with the comment No21! His interpretation of the meaning of the words is totally misunderstood. "Custom" means personal standards, own way, own setting, etc. Therefore, matched with the above explanation, as well as meaning of "ethos", character is built through the years of development based not only on own perceptions, but by influence of the society, family, friends, as well as the fact that person’s character can be changed depending on many other factors. Again, this matches with the author's well represented thoughts.

I personally admire people who don’t just gain their knowledge, but are the ones who understand it. Well done sir, you earned me as your fan.

And yes, thank God that teachers are not like the reader No 21.

By anon96525 — On Jul 15, 2010

I also agree with post 21. I agree with the article if the two terms are swapped. Guess that goes to show how intrinsically linked they are that the slight shift in perspective completely reverses the definitions.

By anon96154 — On Jul 14, 2010

In a marriage, the ethical man knows he shouldn't sleep with another woman, while the moral man just doesn't.

By anon94992 — On Jul 11, 2010

To me, the simplest way to distinguish the difference between a proper use of the words: 'ethics' and 'morals,' is to understand the difference in their connotation.

Within the field of philosophy, Ethics attempts to define the parameters of human behavior as it relates to justice. In this sense, ethics seeks to define human behavior as it relates to fairness. Morals (which is a subcategory within the philosophical field of ethics), on the other hand, attempts to define human behavior as it relates to decency. This is to say that if a particular form of behavior can be judged as fair or unfair, then it can be seen as an ethical judgment. On the other hand, if a behavior can be judged as decent or indecent, it is then the subject of moral judgment.

By anon88496 — On Jun 05, 2010

Originally, ethics referred to the study of morality (i.e. whether something, typically an action, is good or bad). Now often people might use the term "moral philosophy" instead of simply ethics.

In more modern times, ethics has taken on the additional common meaning of a code of conduct, whereas morals refers to a value judgment. Therefore, today, an act can be unethical (i.e. contrary to a specific code of conduct) but still moral (i.e. what a subject might value as 'good).

Ethics as a field of study though is fairly synonymous with morality, or moral philosophy.

By anon85688 — On May 21, 2010

Thank you for the article. it cleared up a few things for me, along with giving some decent examples. And thank you anon44300 for your post #21. that was spot on. Wish more of my school teachers were like you.

By anon84963 — On May 18, 2010

Take, for instance: There is the man who knows it is wrong to cheat on his wife. He is an ethical man, but he does it anyway. And then there's the man who knows it's wrong, and doesn't want to hurt his wife's feelings, so he doesn't cheat. He is a moral man.

By anon68266 — On Mar 01, 2010

About comment 30: In this context, ethical doesn't just mean legal. For example, an action may not necessarily be illegal but only socially unacceptable, to be considered unethical.

I think the main difference is that ethics is dictated by what others think and their standards, while morals are dictated by personal and individual beliefs.

By anon68171 — On Mar 01, 2010

Morals and ethics are the bases of good standards that the rich and powerful benefits.

By anon62002 — On Jan 24, 2010

nice comments. This can educate anyone who doesn't know about morals and ethics.

By anon60484 — On Jan 14, 2010

morals and ethics are the basis of good standards.

By anon60460 — On Jan 13, 2010

Ethics originates in the individual, an inner authority, as the discernment between right and wrong; morals originate from an outer authority-usually a cultural authority whether religious or national.

An ethical parable:

Two disciples meet with their master for the next lesson. The master hands each a chicken and says, "Go kill the chicken where no one will see." One comes back an hour later with a dead chicken. Two days later, the other disciple returns with the chicken still alive. When asked what happened, he replied, "Wherever I go, the chicken sees."

It would be a mistake to avoid a distinction between these two clearly related but differing concepts.

By anon59405 — On Jan 08, 2010

Also, another though about comment #26--" A Moral man does not steal because it goes against his own beliefs." This makes even morality seem like a relative concept if it's only the individual's beliefs rather than being based upon an absolute standard.

By anon59400 — On Jan 08, 2010

Just read comment #26. I don't see that, under this definition or interpretation, ethics has any meaning of its own but is simply a synonym for legality.

By anon59399 — On Jan 08, 2010

Seems like a rather arbitrary definition to me unless you're saying that ethics are relative whereas morality is absolute. In that case I'd be more concerned with my moral behavior than ethics.

By anon57864 — On Dec 28, 2009

@ anon44300: Etymology is of secondary importance. The article accurately describes how moral philosophers use the term today, which is the important thing.

By anon55479 — On Dec 07, 2009

This article is hogwash. Post 21 nailed it.

By anon55386 — On Dec 07, 2009

I think it would be more along the lines of: A Moral man does not steal because it goes against his own beliefs, whereas an ethical man simply wouldn't steal because it's against the law.

By anon50148 — On Oct 26, 2009

thanks a lot for your explanation.

By anon50093 — On Oct 26, 2009

Responding to anon49863: Wouldn't that directly depend on the moral man's character as a whole? In layman's terms, you've missed the point of the whole article.

By anon49863 — On Oct 23, 2009

In layman's terms: An ethical man knows not to cheat on his woman; whereas a moral man simply wouldn't.

By anon44634 — On Sep 09, 2009

Help! I have a nursing interview on Friday and I know from others that they ask these questions;

Name an ethical situation you have been in and how you handled it.

Name a situation that influenced a change in your personal morals.

If anyone can please help me understand this I would really appreciate it! I am mainly having a hard time with the moral question, because my morals have been the same and don't really change. I am a Christian. Please help!

By anon44300 — On Sep 06, 2009

The argument you make is valid but your definition of ethics and morals are reversed. Ethic is derived from the Greek: "Ethos," meaning character or personal disposition while the word moral is derived from the Latin "Mos," meaning custom. Therefore it should be argued that ethics are the individual's ability to determine between right and wrong while morals are the societal values collectively.

By anon40150 — On Aug 06, 2009

I agree. Great post!

By anon37935 — On Jul 22, 2009

In conclusion, perhaps, Ethics are something that is defined as wrong by authority, like work ethics and medical ethics. It is ethical, by medical standards, to treat a soldier from another army, even though that man was just trying to kill your teammates, because the Hippocratic Oath says it is ethical. The oath is recognized in society as something that doctors must do, but non-doctors are not required to understand or carry out, either by law or by the Oath.

Morals are something an individual defines as wrong, such as Person A thinking it is morally wrong to cheat another person, while Person B may think that it's just fine for various reasons. By Person A's standards, the cheat is immoral, but by Person B's standards, the cheat hasn't done anything wrong.

By anon35876 — On Jul 08, 2009

By example: An ethical person knows and understands why stealing is wrong. A moral man does not steal.

By anon35693 — On Jul 07, 2009

The distinction you make is a valid one as it stands but I don't think it amounts to a distinction between ethics and morals. If you do a search on the net for this topic you will find a wide range of distinctions. In my experience the two words are synonyms. What you are doing here is supplying a prescritive definition. I don't think the distinction you make reflects common usage.

By anon33782 — On Jun 11, 2009

morals are 'identified' as right and wrong - ethics are 'doing' the right thing.

By anon31069 — On Apr 29, 2009

I am writing a paper on business ethics and have found I have run out of things to compare ethics to. What else is it quite similar to but also different?

By anon30307 — On Apr 16, 2009

Ethics refers to professional conduct.

Morals refers to personal conduct.

Does anyone disagree?

By anon29113 — On Mar 27, 2009

What about ethics/morals regarding taxes? What if you're paid in cash and you morally have a problem with the way the federal government dispenses your tax dollars: federally-funded abortions, needle-exchange programs, welfare, etc. You see your family's needs first and see yourself as a better steward of the money you have as opposed to the government and their fiscal wisdom? What are your thoughts?

By anon28599 — On Mar 19, 2009

I stumbled across this when looking for a good definition of morals vs. ethics for my Same-sex marriage research paper. I think that The points used are a little faulty, but I can see what point the writer is trying to make. Morals are things that individuals apply to other individuals or themselves, where ethics is more of a doing-best-by-everyone sort of approach, That whole Golden rule thing, which calls for people to treat each other with courtesy no matter who they are.

This is not to say that they don't influence each other--far from it--but that morals can be more exclusive.

My point of view is that people can be represented as dots: all the same color, size, etc. You should treat each dot just like every other dot. That might sound a little wacky, but it makes sense to me. (Oh, and a good diff. using religious morality, most Jews don't eat pork because they feel it's immoral to eat animals with cloven feet [tell me if I'm wrong here], where as in wide culture it isn't seen as any worse than eating a cow, or mutton).


By anon26827 — On Feb 19, 2009

Sunshipball... I understand your point of view. However, I think that you are wrong. You can't place everyone into one category.

I agree with this post on morals/ethics, especially along the lines of homosexuality and abortion. We all have different opinions on what the laws are meant for. Your assumptions can only account for a few individuals in this country(USA). You can't speak for as a whole or even a majority for that matter.

By carbo97 — On Jan 24, 2009

I have a question about morals. Is there a moral example for lying, stealing or cheating?

By anon22238 — On Nov 30, 2008

Looking at the Oxford English Dictionary reveals amazing overlap of meaning. Moral is defined in terms of ethical and vice versa.

The article seems to make some shaky assumptions: first, that social ethical systems are arbitrary and changeable while personal morals are unchanging. Neither is true: the Golden Rule has been around for centuries, while people frequently turn away from rank hedonism when they have children. Second, that personal morals are based on something other than social systems of morality/ethics. Not so--it's a rare individual whose morals don't derive from one or more cultural commonplaces [especially religion]. I'd be more comfortable about a distinction saying ethical judgments are based on reasoning from conscious basic premises [Golden Rule], while morals come from other sources--religion, sympathy, exemplary acts. Obviously, basic premises can be generated by reflection on moral resources. Also, this distinction partly overlaps the article's--socially adopted "ethical systems" are likely to come from, and be applied by, conscious reasoning.

By anon21452 — On Nov 16, 2008

This is a good explanation. To the other poster, regardless of whether or not the two words come from different roots (Greek and Latin) and originally meant the same thing, that is not to say the words have no evolved in our language and developed two separate meanings that pinpoint separate meanings that the word word otherwise require a modifier (ie, personal ethics, or social morality).

I do think that using the legality defining doctors ethics may have been a bad choice. For instance, even though it is legal to kill prisoners on death row, doctors will not do it because it violates the Hippocratic Oath, which is the source of doctor ethics. Abortion would fall under the clause which does not allow doctors to interfere with something a person wants done to their own body, and in this case legally, yes, fetuses are seen as part of the woman's body. Personally I would have mentioned the Hippocratic Oath, which is the essence of medical ethics.

By anon15848 — On Jul 23, 2008

There is a failure to understand the basic roots of these two words. Ethics and morals are exactly the same in English, one has a Greek root, the other a Latin root. To try to assign any other interpretation as fact is to miss the point, although there is no problem in wishing to distinguish between sections of society and how they behave.

By anon10369 — On Mar 26, 2008

I concur RE: medical ethics. Ethics are derived from an authority, such as the defense lawyer and the constitution, workers and a corporate ethos, etc. For medicine, that is generally considered the Hippocratic Oath. As the previous commenter pointed out, as a doctor, you could make surgery illegal, but I'd still do it. My ethical obligations are not to the law but to the good of my patient.

By sunshipball — On Jul 09, 2007

I think this is a good explanation. I disagree, however, with most of the examples, which are likely true in specific instances, but generally false.

I believe most defense lawyers, though they do presumably believe murder (and other crime) is wrong, hold a moral value akin to the social-ethical value that "demand the accused client be defended as vigorously as possible" and believe it outweighs his moral opposition to murder. Same for most prosecutors and the need to prevent jury bias from the introduction of evidence of prior crimes. These examples are overstatement by the author: the situations where morals and ethics clash in the manner described in the article are likely rare.

Similarly, the author overstates the gay rights issue: individuals who believe homosexuality is wrong, but also believe in laws supporting equal rights express their own moral values by determining whether to promote or adhere to social norms protecting gay rights or adhere to their underlying moral value that homosexuality is wrong.

I also disagree with the conclusion that "Abortion is legal and therefore medically ethical." I do not think the concept of medical ethics is tethered so tightly to the law as the author describes. The mere fact that something is legal does not make it medically ethical. And the mere fact that something is illegal does not make it medically unethical. There are other sources of social ethics, particularly in the medical field. (I do not intend this to be a comment about abortion; I could say the same thing about heart surgery or wisdom teeth removal.)

I do think the employment issue hits the nail on the head. And, as I said, I think the explanation of the difference between morals and ethics is good. But most of the examples are artificial.

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