Difference Between Ethics and Morals

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023


Difference Between Ethics and Morals

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Most people try to look up the meaning of the words ‘ethics’ and ‘morals’ in Google and end up more confused they were. Ethics and morals deal with what is right and wrong; however, ethical reasoning is provided by an external source (legal guidelines and professional rules) for humans belonging to a particular group or culture. On the other hand, morals deal with the inner compass of individuals (Tony quips that Dr. Strange has a good moral compass when the latter declares that he will not hesitate to sacrifice the former’s life).

Ethics are restrictions imposed by society; they may be beneficial or hinder progress. Many struggle to choose between what is ethical and what they consider moral. Performing an unethical act ( such as euthanizing a suffering patient on their request) may result in the person being sent to prison. Doing something immoral (a lawyer defending a guilty client) does not necessarily end in getting a prison sentence. There is no room for emotions and personal feelings when it comes to ethics.

Some people sacrifice ethics to keep their moral integrity intact. Morals, too, are, to some extent, preached by an individual’s society or culture. However, the choice to uphold or denounce those morals is in the individual’s hands. Morals depend on what individuals personally think and their preferences. Feelings and emotions play a huge part in morals.

Ethics Vs. Morals

In a nutshell, ethics is what the world thinks is right and wrong. Morals are based on an individual’s beliefs. Some things may be legal but not ethical; however, morals transcend all such rules and norms. An individual’s morality changes according to the situation or their perception of it.

Difference Between Ethics And Morals In Tabular Form

Parameters Of Comparison Ethics Morals
Origin Word The English word ethics is derived from the Greek word ‘ethos’ (character or moral nature). The Latin word ‘Mos’ (customs) is the origin word of the English word moral.
Meaning Ethics are guidelines or rules of conduct that help a group decide what the right thing to do is. Morals are the beliefs or principles of individuals. A person can choose to ignore what is right or protect their moral integrity. It is entirely up to them.
Consistency Ethics are legal and professional rules of conduct. They are consistent; however, if the context changes, ethics change, too. For example, the same set of guidelines will not be suitable for a cop and a doctor, as their work completely differs. Morals differ from person to person, as they are the beliefs formed by an individual, or at times, groups based on their perception of the world.
Why should one be concerned about them? Ethics are adhered to, as they are universally accepted rules (with slight variations according to culture or profession). Violating ethics will result in facing society’s wrath. Keeping moral integrity intact is vital for an easy conscientiousness of mind. 
Factors taken into consideration Ethics propagates that whether an act is right or wrong should be based on the action itself or the consequences of the act. No ethical theory takes both into consideration. Morals put forward the idea that the consequences of any action matter along with the action; therefore, the resulting events of the action and not merely the action itself are taken into consideration.
Religious Connotations Ethics have no religious connotations. Morals are sometimes influenced by the preachings of a religion.
Flexibility Ethical principles may change over time, as the world evolves and new inventions and innovations in various fields takes place. Objective morals never change (a theory put forth by moral realists). However, according to ethical subjectivism what is morally right or wrong is dependent on the attitudes of people. Such morals are bound to change in tandem with the change in a person’s attitude.

What Is Ethics?

Ethics is a set of guidelines; they remain unchanged to a certain extent but vary according to context, group, or profession. An ethical person may or may not have any morals. For example, psychologists cannot disclose information about or report a patient even if they confess to a crime they committed (however, there are some exceptions to this rule). Here, ethics trumps morals.

Major Areas Of Study


Meta-Ethics deals with how to determine/judge whether something is right or wrong and what one means by right or wrong. Cognitivism (moral realism, ethical subjectivism, and error theories fall under this category) and non-cognitivism (when people judge whether something is moral or not, they project their emotions and do not objectively view a situation) are the classifications of meta-ethics.

Moral skepticism is a sub-division of meta-ethics and claims that no one has complete knowledge about morals and that attaining it is impossible. Emotivism, a type of non-cognitivism theory, propagates that ethical sentences only express approval or disapproval and do not assert that one must follow what is approved.

Normative Ethics

Normative ethics tries to answer how one must act or choose a course of action in a given situation. The following are the various types/classifications of normative ethics:

Virtue Ethics

According to virtue ethics, it is the character of a person that determines his ethical behavior; Aristotle, Socrates, and Valluvar are some of the many famous philosophers who advocated this theory. Self-knowledge was emphasized in this theory, and Socrates believed that a person will do what is right if they know what it is.

Deontological Ethics

Deontology puts forth the idea that an action may be moral or right even if it has negative consequences. This approach focuses on the nature of the act itself and not what happens after. Kantianism, Divine Command theory, and discourse ethics fall under deontology.


Ever heard the phrase ‘the ends justify the means’? Most villains be they in literature or movies, often use this phrase; however, they have a twisted understanding of that phrase. In reality, Consequentialism refers to theories that say the consequence of an action determines whether the action itself is right or wrong. An action that truly results in a good outcome is considered moral.

Pragmatic Ethics

Pragmatic ethics holds that what is defined as right and wrong changes and evolves over the course of time. According to pragmatists, social reform should be prioritized over attempts to improve individual virtues.


The main principle of this ethics is to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Hedonism has been criticized due to some of the hedonist schools advocating self-gratification without caring about how others suffer as a consequence. Cyrenaic Hedonism supports indulging even in fleeting desires, whereas Epicureanism supports indulging in pleasures using prudence.

Other Types Of Normative Ethics

Role ethics depends on a person’s role in their family and their relationship with society. Peter Kropotkin is the largest contributor to the Anarchist ethics theory. According to the theory ethics is evolutionary and is inherited instinctively. Postmodernism is a theory that accepts the grayish nature of humans and deems it unchangeable.

Applied Ethics

Applied ethics deals with applying ethical theory in real life. Business ethics (code of conduct in an organization), geoethics (related to responsibilities of a human to the world/Earth he lives in), bioethics (deals with issues related to controversial advancements in health and technology), engineering ethics (defines an engineer’s duty to the society, clients, and his profession), and so on are the various fields of this category.

Publication Ethics is another important field of applied ethics. It is a set of guidelines on how to write and publish for all professionals. Every author has to ensure that the content they write is free of plagiarism and publication bias. Animal ethics (describes how animals ought to be treated) and ethics of technology/techno ethics (addresses questions relating to the Technology Age) are some of the other popular ethical theories.

What Are Morals?

Morality (proper behavior) or moral principles are derived from a standard an individual wants to be universally accepted. Some consider morals to mean the same as goodness or rightness. Immorality means deviating from what is moral and indulging in wrongful activities. On the other hand, an amoral person is unaware of, does not care about, or disbelieves a set of moral principles. For an action to be deemed moral the practical/logical reasoning that led to it and the emotions that influenced it must be moral.

Morals are based on emotions and intuitions; they change as one’s personality develops. Sigmund Freud believed morals were developed to avoid feeling guilt and shame. Moral judgment has three components: a person’s character, the action performed, and the consequence of the action.

Different Theories Of Morality Or Morals

Descriptive And Normative Morality

Descriptive morals refer to personal values or codes of conduct accepted by an individual. These morals do not deal with what is objectively right or wrong, rather they refer to what is believed to be right or wrong. Normative morals deal with what is actually right or wrong irrespective of the beliefs or values of a person or culture.

In-Group And Out-Group Morals

Some people are of the opinion that a separate set of morals is applicable to the in-group (individuals and the group they believe they belong to) and the out-group (those that do not belong to the aforementioned group). Many believe that such discrimination rose because it increased the chances of a group’s survival. Gary R. Johnson considers patriotism an example of in-group/out-group morals.

Tribal And Territorial Morals

Tribal morality is arbitrary and culturally dependent and makes an individual adopt the rules of the group/culture. Territorial morals are absolute; categorical imperative (choosing the right thing to do instead of the good thing to do is considered moral) and graded absolutism theories (when in a moral dilemma do nothing, choose the lesser evil, or the greater good of the two alternatives) are examples of territorial morals.

Main Difference Between Ethics And Morals In Points

  • One must conform to the proposed ethical conduct if one wishes to belong to a society. Morals are staunch personal beliefs; so, a person must keep their moral integrity intact if they want to be able to look at their face in the mirror without flinching.
  • While morals may be in tandem with ethics for the most part, sometimes a conflict arises. Ethics is considered superior to morals when it comes to professions; however, in situations related to personal lives, morals play a greater role.
  • Morals are based on culture and instincts, whereas ethics are based on logic and reason.
  • Ethics helps to judge whether someone’s behavior was right or not. On the other hand, morals analyze the intentions behind a behavior, too.
  • Morals are subjective and sometimes religion-based. Ethics are a practical set of rules formed to promote fairness and avoid unnecessary clashes.
  • Ethics is a result of the guidelines, rules, or laws of a society or a culture (external guide). Morals are the social instincts of humans (internal compass that shows what course to take).
  • The ethical conduct of a person is based on what is expected of him by society. The morality of an individual is influenced by personal experiences.


There is bound to be a clash between ethics and morals in a person’s life sooner or later. No proper guideline or process is known to pick one over the other on such occasions. It depends entirely on the situation and the individual’s willingness to sacrifice their moral integrity or ethical principles. Someone with high moral standards may fall in the eyes of society if they violate ethics. On the other hand, if one’s morals take a backseat, life will seem like hell.

At the end of the day, all one wants is to sleep peacefully at night without worrying about the grueling things one went through during the day. For that, a clean and clear conscience is necessary. Ethics and morals are both important, and it is the duty/obligation of humans to try and uphold them (even if it feels like it is not worth it at times).


  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical_subjectivism
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graded_absolutism
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categorical_imperative
  • https://benjaminspall.com/ethics-morals/
  • https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/ethics-vs-morality/
  • https://grammarist.com/usage/ethics-morals/



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"Difference Between Ethics and Morals." Diffzy.com, 2023. Sun. 04 Jun. 2023. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-ethics-and-morals-1246>.

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