Difference Between Ethics and Morals

In the fast and fact-based world that we live in today, things like ethics and morals have been left behind.


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Due to the daily life hustle, we have forgotten about these concepts, which are grounds for humanity to exist.

Often used interchangeably, these concepts relate to ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ conduct. However, it would be wrong to say that both of them mean the same.

Key Takeaways

  1. Ethics involve rules or principles guiding behaviour within a specific group, profession, or society, while morals pertain to beliefs about right and wrong.
  2. Ethics can be codified and enforced by professional organizations or institutions, while morals are more subjective and influenced by personal values, culture, and upbringing.
  3. Ethics and morals are essential for guiding behavior, but ethics focus on external standards and internal beliefs and values.

Ethics vs Morals

Ethics systematically study right and wrong in human conduct and decision-making, including examining moral values and obligations. Morals are an individual’s personal beliefs about what is right and wrong. Morals are shaped by an individual’s upbringing, culture, religion, and personal experiences and can vary widely from person to person. While ethics provides a framework for understanding and evaluating moral values and behaviours, morals reflect an individual’s sense of right and wrong.

Ethics vs Morals

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To better explain the difference, we take an example of a defence attorney.

Even though the law and morals state that a criminal must be punished for his crimes, a defence attorney must defend him because of her ethics as a professional lawyer, even if she is acquainted with the fact that he is guilty.


Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonEthicsMorals
MeaningThey are rules or codes of conduct recognised concerning a specific class or group of people.They are individual principles or habits about right or wrong conduct. It is at a personal level.
Source of OriginThey originate from external sources.They originate from internal sources.
Reason for DoingThe primary reason ethics are followed is that society believes something is suitable to be done.Morals are mainly followed because an individual himself/herself thinks it is the right thing to do.
Originating wordThey come from the Greek word ‘Ethos’, which means ‘character’.They come from the Latin word ‘Mos’, which means ‘custom’.
AcceptabilityEthics are governed by principles or guidelines which are legal or professional and are considered at a specific time and place.Morals surpass cultural or professional boundaries or norms.
FlexibilityEthics are dependent on an external source, which generally remains constant regarding a specific context but may have differences concerning another context.Morals largely remain constant. However, they may change with a change in an individual’s beliefs.


What are Ethics?

Ethics come from the Greek word ‘Ethos’, which means ‘character’.

Ethics are external standards set by an institution, a group or a culture. These are required to be followed by persons belonging to that particular institution, group or culture.

For instance, lawyers, doctors, police personnel etc., have a set external code of conduct that they must follow.

Regarding the consistency of ethics, they are generally entirely consistent in a specific context. However, they may vary with changes in context.

Ethics are generally followed because of society’s belief that they are the right thing to do. In other words, they are stringently required to be followed by the people relating to the body which governs them.

They can also be understood from a social system or framework of acceptable behaviour.

Ethics are outside attributes that society requires a person to follow. A person may or may not individually or morally be in favour of all the established classes of ethics.


What are Morals?

Morals, technically, come from the Latin term ‘Mos’, which means ‘custom’.

Morals are an individual’s beliefs and ideas of right and wrong conduct. They are followed by individuals with their own will and understanding.

Even though morals too are influenced by external factors such as culture or society, towards the end, they are determined and followed by an individual himself/ herself.

Unlike ethics, morals are not set by an external body, and people of a particular group are not obligated to follow them.

However, they are socially acceptable standards of morality that an individual takes upon himself to interpret and follow.

Concerning their consistency, they do not change frequently but might change with the change in the beliefs and ideals of an individual.

In simple words, morals are personal principles created, followed and upheld by an individual himself.

They can also be understood as actions that a rational person would perform in a particular situation. This is precisely why there indeed exists a conflict between morals and ethics.


Main Differences Between Ethics and Morals

  1. The first and foremost difference between Ethics and Morals is the entity which forms them. In other words, ethics are created and formulated by an external authority, whether organisations, institutions, particular groups or classes of people, or even certain religions. Morals, however, are personal beliefs of individuals that they deem to categorise into right or wrong conduct.
  2. Another important distinction is that ethics are followed because society requires people to follow concerning a particular group of people. On the contrary, though influenced by society and culture, morals are determined and followed by an individual’s will.
  3. Furthermore, the word ethics originates from the Greek word ‘Ethos’, which means ‘character’, and the word morals originate from the Latin word ‘Mos’, which means ‘custom’.
  4. Moreover, ethics are generally legal or professional principles that a particular entity requires its associates to follow, whereas morals transcend all cultural and professional boundaries.
  5. Ethics are primarily consistent concerning a specific context but may exhibit a change for a different context. An individual’s morals generally do not change but may be subject to change when a person’s beliefs change.
Difference Between Ethics and Morals
  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1154783/
  2. https://ascelibrary.org/doi/abs/10.1061/(ASCE)1052-3928(1991)117:2(88)
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