So what is the difference between morality and ethics? I've come up with my own understanding of the difference but would be interested in what others might think.


The difference between the two as I see it is that morality is a gut feeling. It's your inner sense of right and wrong that has developed over the course of your life. Ethics is a set of specific rules, often written down, that state right behavior and wrong behavior.


So to use the Bible as an example, the sense that it is wrong to kill within the tribe (but not outside the tribe) is morality. The Ten Commandments would be a set of ethics.



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It's kind of hard to pin down all the uses of the terms.

On the most basic level, Ethics is the branch of philosophy that studies and seeks to understand human moral systems.

I think of morality is a set of traditions, ideals of right and wrong that are passed down via one's culture, while ethics is a set of rules that are consciously worked out and reconsidered by an individual or group.

I think that makes sense to me. Ethics can be consider a formal study of our morality. Listing those moral rules would be part of it.


Although as I write this it occurs to me that ethics is more than just a study of what is, it is also a study of what should be. Many groups, business and advocacy groups, will try to create ethical rules which they think people should adhere to.



Hi guys, interesting thread. In addition, id say ethics is a set of standards, morality is the (variable) compass to navigate between right and wrong. Example: a lawyer defending a killer is doing his job (ethical duty) with no prejudice to his morals which oppose killing. Ethics is the philosophical approach to morality, which stems from contextual culture and society. Deontology is the set of rules applying to a function, the code of conduct. Im italian, so maybe there is some loss in translating ,morals,.
I have never heard of Deontology before. That alone makes the question worth asking.
Morality: what lots of people think now.  Ethics: what lots of people think for quite a while.  Both ultimately boil down to:  Albert Schweitzer--yay!  Hitler--boo!
Of course you are right, but the literal definitions of these two words are close to being the same. If you look only at the dictionary definitions you might miss the differences. And also the definitions of many words are only the start of the understanding of what those words means. There is also the connotative definition, the implied meaning.

Although the two words have close to the same meaning and many people use them interchangeably, I do believe there is a slight difference between them. And I was curious if others felt the same way.

Some useful resources:

Ethics vs morals and morality - What's the distinction?  blog post

quotation:  "[Ethics is] is the philosophical study of morality. The word is also commonly used interchangeably with 'morality' to mean the subject matter of this study; and sometimes it is used more narrowly to mean the moral principles of a particular tradition, group, or individual. Christian ethics and Albert Schweitzer's ethics are examples."

-- John Deigh in Robert Audi (ed), The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 1995


Word of the Day - Morality vs. Ethics

Broadly speaking, morals are individual principles of right and wrong, and a system of ethics deals with sets of those principles. Both terms entered the language in the Middle English period, with moral being the older form by about 100 years (c. 1300).


Article on  What are Ethics and Morality?

The terms ethics and morality are often used interchangeably and can mean the same in casual conversation, but morality refers to moral standards or conduct while ethics refers to the formal study of such standards and conduct. For theists, morality typically comes from gods and ethics is a function of theology; for atheists, morality is a natural feature of reality or human society and ethics is a part of philosophy.

The way I think about the distinction is similar to what you mentioned:  ethics are on the outside/external and morals are in the inside/internal.  Ethics can be situational and we take context into account...historical context, cultural context, etc.  They are rules...guidelines. 


I think of morals in absolute terms and ethics in relative terms.  It may be considered immoral to kill, for example, but ethically acceptable to end suffering.  When moral values and judgments are applied in a real setting, that equals ethics.  Ethics boards in hospitals, for example, will reach consensus with families about 'end of life' decisions.  The whole discussion about 'death panels' brought up by the Republicans during President Obama's health care reform plans paint a broad brush about palliative care and hospice care that oversimplifies the real moral dilemmas families face every day....human values, attitudes, judgments are subjective! 

In the field of psychology, we're taught that morals are our own values. Ethics are the code set for us that determine right or wrong in legalese. Our instructor gave us an example: What would you do if your client came in and told you they murdered someone last night?


The moral answer would be to report it because somebody died and this person could get away with it. The ethical answer would be that you cannot break confidentiality, as a psychologist, as this client is not currently threatening to kill someone.

There's no difference. They are both made up words that we use to placate ourselves against the bondage of our god.




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