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Ethics versus Morals: A Comparison 

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Ethics Matters

Q1 2023

Ethics are the principles that dictate how a person behaves and reacts in different situations and with ethical dilemmas. As you can imagine, promoting and investing in an ethical workplace has many advantages. Both ethics and morals refer to “right” and “wrong” behaviors and conduct. While they are sometimes used interchangeably, these words are different: ethics refer to rules provided by an external source, such as a code of conduct in the workplace. Morals refer to an individual’s principles regarding right and wrong. 

Much of the confusion between these two words can be traced back to their origins. For example, the word “ethic” comes from Old French (etique), a set of rules for customs and behaviors, whereas Late Latin (ethica) and Greek (ethos) referred to customs or moral philosophies. “Morals” comes from Late Latin’s moralis, which referred to appropriate behavior and manners in society. The two words originally had very similar meanings. 

What are Ethics 

Ethics are an external social system relating to a specific group that defines right and wrong behaviors. Ethics are codified into a set of rules or a system and adopted by people in that field. For example, lawyers, doctors, and accountants must follow an ethical code laid down by their profession, regardless of their feelings or preferences. Disclosing confidential information or misleading a client are some examples of a breach of ethics. Ethical principles remain consistent across industries and institutions, as they offer strict behavior guidelines.  

What are Morals 

Morals are internal principles that act as personal standards of what we value as right and wrong and vary from person to person. Morals are composed of likes, dislikes, perspectives, predispositions, and judgments. Morals provide the basic foundation for understanding a person’s behavior, attitudes, and perceptions. Individual morals are influenced by various factors like religion, culture, and society.  

 Here are some common differences between moral and ethical behavior: 

1.    Consistency: Moral rules are personal and vary from individual to individual. While your actions and moral beliefs may stay the same, your personal moral behaviors may vary from the behavior of others. Ethical principles remain consistent across industries and institutions as they provide behavioral guidelines. For example, the code of professional ethics for two doctors living in different cities is the same despite their geographic differences. 

2.    Decision-making: Both your moral values and code of ethics influence your decision-making daily. Moral decisions stem from personal values, so choosing to help a friend results from the importance you place on friendship. However, when you encounter an ethical issue, your code of ethical behavior influences your response. For example, a defense lawyer chooses to defend their client even if it contradicts their moral beliefs due to their ethical code as a lawyer. 

3.     Governing factors: Different contexts influence morality and ethics. Ethical rules stem from a social context since they relate to societal regulations—an entire community or organization establishes a set of ethical beliefs to decide what is right and wrong collectively. On the other hand, moral codes exist on a personal level, as individuals internalize a set of values to create their own concept of what is morally correct. 

Difference Between Ethics and Morals 

Ethics are a set of principles relating to a specific group, field, or organization. 

Morals are personal principles or standards of behavior. 

Ethics can be personal and professional. 

Morals are personal. 

Ethics are influenced by different professions, organizations, institutes, etc. 

Morals are influenced by family background, culture, religion, community, etc. 

Ethics can vary according to the profession. 

Morals can vary according to individuals.