Ethics vs. Morals

Ethics and morals both relate to “right” and “wrong” conduct. However, ethics refer to the series of rules provided to an individual by an external source, e.g. their profession or religion. Morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong.

Comparison chart



What are they? The rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group or culture. Principles or habits with respect to right or wrong conduct. While morals also prescribe dos and don'ts, morality is ultimately a personal compass of right and wrong.
Where do they come from? Social system - External Individual - Internal
Why we do it? Because society says it is the right thing to do. Because we believe in something being right or wrong.
Flexibility Ethics are dependent on others for definition. They tend to be consistent within a certain context, but can vary between contexts. Usually consistent, although can change if an individual’s beliefs change.
The "Gray" A person strictly following Ethical Principles may not have any Morals at all. Likewise, one could violate Ethical Principles within a given system of rules in order to maintain Moral integrity. A Moral Person although perhaps bound by a higher covenant, may choose to follow a code of ethics as it would apply to a system. "Make it fit"
Origin Greek word "ethos" meaning"character" Latin word "mos" meaning "custom"
Acceptability Ethics are governed by professional and legal guidelines within a particular time and place Morality transcends cultural norms

Contents: Ethics vs Morals

A protester with a message on Ethics during Occupy Portland protest
A protester with a message on Ethics during Occupy Portland protest

Source of Principles

Ethics are external standards, provided by the institutions, groups or culture to which an individual belongs. For example, lawyers, policemen and doctors all have to follow an ethical code laid down by their profession, regardless of their own feelings or preferences. Ethics can also be considered as a social system or a framework for acceptable behavior.

Morals may also be influenced by culture or society, but they are personal principles created and upheld by the individuals themselves.

Consistency and Flexibility

Ethics are very consistent within a certain context, but can vary greatly between contexts. For example, the ethics of the medical profession in the 21st century are generally consistent and do not change from hospital to hospital, but they are different from the ethics of the 21st century legal profession.

An individual’s moral code is usually unchanging and consistent across all contexts, but can change if the individual has a radical change in their personal beliefs and values.

Example of a conflict between ethics and morals

One professional example of ethics conflicting with morals is the work of a defense attorney. A lawyer’s morals may tell her that murder is reprehensible and that murderers should be punished, but her ethics as a professional lawyer, require her to defend the client to the best of her abilities, even if she knows that the client is guilty.

Videos explaining the differences

The following video explains how ethics are objective while morals are subjective.

The following video discusses the ethical and moral dilemma faced by Captain Picard in an episode of Star Trek where he must choose whether to do nothing — in which case tens of thousands of people will die — or do something to save them but with a risk that millions of people will die.


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Comments: Ethics vs Morals

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Anonymous comments (8)

October 23, 2013, 2:02pm

The Greek and Latin origins seem to indicate that the definitions are reversed. However, I think that the definitions are correct for how the terms are used. For example, Olympic athletes have a code of ethics to which they must adhere; and people are often given the advice to "follow their moral compass"

— 72.✗.✗.224

May 30, 2013, 11:41pm

I think the distinction drawn here is backwards. If you listen to how these words are used idiomatically, moral tends to relate to codified societal beliefs that are received on an unquestioned basis (the 1960's use of the term "moral majority" for instance.) On the other hand ethics implies a philosophical and hence reasoned set of values that the individual thinks through (going back to Aristotle's Ethics).

— 173.✗.✗.75

June 25, 2012, 6:43pm

WOW!!! Neat website... I love it! :D

— 70.✗.✗.68

June 10, 2014, 7:33pm

Many people - even many philosophers - think that morality and ethics are the same thing. But they are not. Morality is primarily about making the correct choices, while ethics is about proper reasoning.

— 66.✗.✗.24

November 15, 2013, 8:17pm

Part of being an educated person is that you know how to find the field that studies the thing you are interested in. Philosophy is the field that studies ethics. Philosophers use the terms "ethical" and "moral" more or less interchangeably, and tend not to use the term "morals".

The content here is of very very poor quality, and looks like it was simply made up by someone.
If you want to learn about this, a good starting point is the Stanford Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. That is a very high quality source, with several entries on ethics.

— 75.✗.✗.251

November 28, 2012, 6:02am

why the religious biased video in this otherwise educational site. ruins the message.

— 69.✗.✗.59

March 23, 2014, 12:59am

Morality is an individual's opinion of right and wrong. An ethical code is the opinion of a group that has the authority to force others to follow their views, or be penalized. Having the authority to make rules does not make your rules any more objective or rational. ALL moral views are subjective. Posting videos from a cult that believes in magic destroys your credibility.

— 76.✗.✗.223

January 7, 2014, 8:12am

Thenx i have a clue on wat i should say in ma presentation

— 41.✗.✗.147


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