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Difference Between Ethics and Morals

petaEthics vs Morals

Ethics and morals may seem the same on the face of it, but if one were to analyze, there is definitely some difference. It means, it may be ethical for someone to consume meat, after all there is no social code being breached, but at the same time the same person may find the idea of slaughtering an animal repugnant.

This implies that ethics define the code that a society or group of people adhere to while morality delves into right and wrong at a much deeper level, which is both personal and spiritual. The ethics that a person adheres too are impacted upon by external factors like the nation, society, peer group, religion and profession, and could change with a change in any of these influencing factors.

For instance fox hunting in England was ethical till the other day, because that was the tradition, and there was no law against it. But the recent legislation banning it made it illegal, and the widespread protests against the evil nature of the sport caused a cessation of the tradition supporting it, and therefore it became unethical. Morals on the other hand are made of sterner stuff, and usually do not change. It will for instance always be immoral to murder another human being, no matter who the person committing the act is.

Ethics are well defined and quite neatly laid down. Take the case of professionals like doctors and lawyers. They know what the ethics of their profession dictate. A doctor will never divulge his patient’s medical history to anyone other than the patient himself, unless authorized by the later, or required under law to do so. Similarly a lawyer will never compromise his client’s interest notwithstanding his own disposition towards his client.

But morals are of a subliminal nature and deciding upon what constitutes them is not that easy. We know of moral dilemma, not an ethical one. Take the case of abortion. Is it moral? On the one hand there may be extremely compelling grounds in its favor, but is taking a human life, even if not fully formed, ever going to be considered a moral act?
Following ethics is therefore a relatively simple affair; after all it only involves a set of socially acceptable guidelines which benefit all. Morals are however relatively difficult to adhere to. The religious sect of Jains in India believes that the only matter which can be consumed by human beings is leaves and fruit which have fallen off trees. No grain, no dairy products, no eggs, nor any meat. Why they are supposed to cover their mouths and noses with a piece of cloth, so that they may not inadvertently kill microscopic organisms by the very act of breathing. Now those are tough morals to follow!

We can clearly see that morals and ethics though seemingly similar are in fact quite distinct. While the former constitute a basic human marker of right conduct and behavior, the latter is more like a set of guidelines that defined accepted practices and behavior for a certain group of people.
1. Ethics relates to a society whereas morality relates to an individual person.
2. Ethics relate more in a professional life while morals are what individuals follow independently.

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  1. Thank you. I was skeptical at first there was any difference at all. But now that it’s been explained, I totally get it now.

  2. Thank you, you have no idea how many sites I looked at before this one. Forgive me for saying but through all the other jibber jabber with the other sites, yours was clearly understood!! Two thumbs up!

  3. There’s one more distinction you missed.

    As you point out, ethics is about a society, or as I would put it, about relationships between people, and are defined by the type of relationship (and sometimes the specifics are defined by agreement between those individuals).

    Morals are typically dictated by religion, and can be about arbitrary things (what you can do on the Sabbath, what you can wear, how long your beard should be, etc.) that don’t always involve others.

  4. whether a person is moral or immoral depends on the behaviour of the individual.Suppose one guy will be not moral against the social regulations stipulated by the government,the guy is obligatory to receive the punishments from teh consequences of what the guy did against the moral regulations.It is important to judge a personss from his or her behaviour instead of what he or she think in the mind.I mean the action is the most significant factor to judge a person.The behaviour of individual represents a person rather than what he or she thinks.

  5. “Morals on the other hand are made of sterner stuff, and usually do not change. It will for instance always be immoral to murder another human being, no matter who the person committing the act is.”

    People always are content with the police and soldiers who kill people frequently because it keeps them safe so they are indifferent about it.

  6. I have been reading articles on the Ethics vs Morality debate for several days. I enjoyed the article and appreciate that you took the time to post it, but I have many points of disagreement with you –

    You suggest that a difference in ethics and morality is ethics are more “group” biased while morality is of a “personal and spiritual” nature. Using murder as the example of being against a ‘moral’ idea. There are large groups of people who think that murder is fully acceptable (think gangs and cartels). The only reason it is considered immoral for most people is a long history of religious and social teaching (groups) stating that it is immoral.

    Morals are not “of sterner stuff”. They frequently change and they vary based upon the country you are in or the small group of friend you keep. In the USA, there has been a move from brewing and consuming alcohol being acceptable, to prohibition, to moderate use, to overuse, back to moderate use. See also marijuana or ‘pornography’. Religious views on morality may infrequently change, but not social views on it.

    Being in a profession that has a written code of conduct and required ethics continuing education, I can tell you that there are undoubtedly ethical dilemmas. I have colleagues who post them on message boards, and there will be a variety of answers as to how to address the ethical matter.

    Again, thanks for posting. It is a difficult subject and everyone’s thoughts are useful in trying to resolve what these concepts mean and how they relate or not.

    • I agree with JP. Morals and ethics are pretty much the same thing. People wish they were different, especially when they don’t like the morals of a rival group, but I think it’s really just meaningless rhetoric to draw a line between the two when discussing something like murder or EPA regulations. I also got a laugh out of the assertion that professional ethics have no gray areas.

      • Morals and ethics clearly aren’t the same thing, at least the way the words are used. Something done by an individual can be “immoral” (say, doing certain drugs), but not “unethical” (which is universally applied to relationships between people).

        And I don’t see how it has anything to do with “people wishing” anything.

        I agree with JP that “morals” change over time. But I still assert that they’re typically based on religiously-grounded edicts (which is how a victimless crime like smoking marijuana can be immoral), while ethics governs the interactions between people. (You can substitute paternalistically-grounded if you like, but the point remains that the words have different meaning.)

      • Has anyone considered that morals might be ethics that have been adapted and edited largely by religion. Compare items you could classify as immoral or unethical, and see how much of the “immoral” items involve sex and various religious practices. For starters, try things like gay rights, contraception, premarital sex — stuff like that.

  7. This site is awesome..Two thumbs up..

  8. Great topic. A nice civil, intellectual conversation among grown ups. I, as all leaders in the military leadership, hit on this topic during the very basics of leadership training, and I always thought it was interesting to hear many views on the subject from all walks of life. My Leadership developement courses were in the 1980’s, and I believe ethics, and moral issues never change. I can’t even remember now why I googled this topic , but glad I did. Thanks.

  9. I’m a bit confused about the overlapping of the two fields. Can you give 2 examples for:
    – an action/outcome which is morally right but ethically wrong?
    – an action/outcome which is morally wrong but ethically right?

  10. Something which could be considered morally right (in at least some systems of morality) but ethically wrong: Violating attorney-client privilege in order to save someone’s life.

    Something which could be considered morally wrong (in at least some systems of morality) but that is ethically irrelevant (since it doesn’t involve another person): Masturbation.

  11. 2016!!! 😀


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