Explain the difference between ethics and morals, and describe the relationship between the two.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Morals relates to individual beliefs about what is right and wrong and are somewhat subjective. For instance, one person might believe the death penalty is immoral, while another might believe that because murder is immoral, the death penalty is a just consequence for convicted murderers. Ethics refers to generally accepted...

Get
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Morals relates to individual beliefs about what is right and wrong and are somewhat subjective. For instance, one person might believe the death penalty is immoral, while another might believe that because murder is immoral, the death penalty is a just consequence for convicted murderers. Ethics refers to generally accepted principles of right and wrong and how to apply those principles to everyday living. It attempts to define acceptable human behavior based on moral values.

For example, it is considered unethical to con senior citizens of their life savings. This is based on the moral belief that lying or deceit is wrong and the ethical principle of respecting elders. Ethical codes can apply to correct behavior within a religion (Christian ethics), profession (judicial ethics), country (Chinese ethics) or specific group (hacker ethics). Ethics can also be personal. For instance, one person might never take home a pen from the office on the principle that it constitutes stealing, while a colleague might see that action as a fringe benefit of working for a company and deny that is stealing in the same sense as, say, robbing a bank.

Though ethics and morals are often used as synonyms, in practicality, morals denote personal, subjective beliefs, while ethics refer to shared principles that regulate conduct within a society. Since ethical principles are typically based on morals, the two are intertwined to a large degree. Sometimes a moral flaw, such as the inability to control your tongue, leads to unethical behavior, such as violating attorney-client privilege.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team