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Morals v. Ethics

I've been trying to distinguish between morals and ethics or are they only different words for the same idea.

To me, morals are more socially based and is a set of beliefs and subsequent judgements about good and evil. That is, we develop ideas of what is good or bad from observation and from direct experience from school, family, church, authority figures. This set of beliefs that constitutes what we believe to be essentially good or bad is instilled in us and reinforced by family, Church, society, experience. We carry these ideas within us. Like, when one can't steal, even knowing that capture won't happen, because that inner policeman won't let our conscience be at peace with it. These beliefs do tend to mature with added experience; but are fundamentally resistant to radical or sudden change.

To me, ethics is a set of rules that are more subject to change and renegotiation, more culturally constructed than morals. Beliefs about what is good and bad and mutually agreed upon, that help groups to determine a suitable set of rules to guide behaviour (like in developing a professional code of ethics).


Well, that would kind of describe the "Moral Majority" and the Teabaggers. :p
Hugs, Jon
Not familiar with Teabaggers.
Ah, lucky you! If only we in the U.S. were blessed to have no knowledge of them as well.
Exactly. :o
They are are a part of the extreme conservative side of the Republican party in the US. They basically hate every thing they don't believe in.
I'd agree that it can be difficult to tell the difference sometimes although I think that what are perceived as morals or ethics can (indeed, have) both changed over time. It was once thought moral and ethical to keep slaves for instance (volumes were written justifying it in both classical and more modern times even by those whose religious beliefs plainly forbade it). The majority of us would now consider it to be both immoral and unethical.

And that term 'immoral' can be an exceedingly dicey one around the bigoted and prejudiced!

Edited at 2014-01-29 16:09 (UTC)
I would like to concentrate on morals myself(especially on the religious side - however neglectful of morality we Christians have been in the past)and leave ethics to the business people.
what would you call the instinct that tells us (and other animals) innately what is right and fair?

if you are unfamiliar i recommend you to the research of frans de waal:


I think we 'learn' what is right and fair.

I not familiar with Frans de Waal. Thank you.

I loved the video!
that's interesting. if you think it is learned, who do you think taught the animals that de waal describes?

i am glad you enjoyed the video! i am a big fan :)
Probably hunger. I'm not fully convinced that the warders did not have a lot to do with it.
i think you should read some more frans de waal, perhaps "mind of the raven".

the question you raise is, given that all animals experience hunger, why do only some animals (such as humans, or ravens) practice altruism and other behaviors we would regard as moral or ethical? dogs and cats treat others very differently; dogs would generally i think be found more moral than cats. (not that i don't love cats :)

Edited at 2014-01-30 11:58 (UTC)
They are quite intertwined, since ethics is a system of moral principles.

But morals seems to be more centered around individual conduct within societal norms, whereas ethics seems to be more focused on human behavior within a certain class or group of people.

Moral is the older word, found in writings about 100 years before ethics is found. (1300-50 AD VS 1400-50 AD. Moral is based on the Latin, ethics on the Greek. Very similar although not identical.)

- Erulisse (one L)
Thank you. Yes, I think that would sum it up.

Latin and Greek, early and late.

That is interesting. I'm wondering if both words can be traced back to proto-indo-european roots and what the differences in those root meanings might have been

Re: Latin and Greek, early and late.

Moral =
1300–50; Middle English < Latin mōrālis, equivalent to mōr- (stem of mōs ) usage, custom + -ālis -al1

Ethic =
1350–1400; Middle English ethic, etic < Latin ēthicus < Greek ēthikós, equivalent to êth ( os ) ethos + -ikos -ic

or at least that's what my dictionary says...

- Erulisse (one L)

Re: Latin and Greek, early and late.

Thank you. Both words are said to come from a hypothesized proto-indo-european language which may have been spoken in Eastern Europe and Central Asia 6000 or more years ago and is supposed to be the root of most European and Southern Asian languages.

Moral is from Me-1 (with a long e) which meant mood or mind.

Ethical is from s(we)e which meant something like "we ourselves" S(we)e is the root of many words including self, gossip, struggle, secede, sedition, segregate, solitude, ethnic, and idiot.

Often a modern seems to have no connection to its ancient root, but there is usually something there if one looks hard enough.

I get this from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, but i think the information (and more) is in the OED.
I think that's a good distinction between the subtle difference. I'd also say morals applies more to someone's personal conduct in how they live their lives (pertaining to themselves). Ethics applies more to someone's conduct as it relates to interaction and behavior with others.

Hm, the more I look at those two sentences, the less they make sense - I hope they do.
No matter what you call it, it is what any culture/society accept as the norms for a given point in time.
I think both words have variable and overlapping meanings. Generally, i think i would rather be known as an ethical person -- one who tries to do no harm and to consider the interests of others ahead of ones own. I also try to be moral, but other people's morals are of almost no interest to me. "Moral" people are mainly responsible for maintaining sexism, bigotry, witchhunts, inquisitions, and drawing sharp and arbitrary lines between "good" and "evil." I think there might be evil people, by my list would be so much different from that of other people that sharing it would only cause conflict
I think I understand your mind-set, esp. your reference to people who draw "arbitrary lines between "good" and "evil"".