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Alvah
11-18-2010, 10:02 AM
I need help understanding the difference between the words
moral and ethical. I have looked them up, and their definitions
are very similar.

If a man has sex with another man's wife, that's immoral;
is it also unethical?

If a politician's vote is determined by which lobbyist gave
him the most gifts, that's unethical; is it also immoral?

I don't think the two words are interchangeable, but I'm
not sure of the difference. Does "moral" apply mainly to
personal interactions, and does "ethical" apply more to
social life?

MichelleH
11-18-2010, 10:12 AM
I've always thought of "moral" as being related to one's own personal code of right and wrong while "ethical" is more of what society agrees is right or wrong.

I should add that for some the definitions are reversed.

Cyia
11-18-2010, 10:23 AM
Morality is a personal choice, while ethics is a code of conduct.

You can't teach morality, but ethics is a business class.

blacbird
11-18-2010, 10:50 AM
I'll give a literary answer:

In To Kill a Mockingbird, the sheriff, Hec Tate, realizes that Boo Radley is responsible for the death of Bob Ewell, who was attempting to molest or kill the children of Atticus Finch. Atticus also realizes this. Tate tells Atticus that to prosecute Radley would be immoral, and as Sheriff, his decision is that Ewell "fell on his knife". That wasn't an ethical decision, but it was a moral one.

Medievalist
11-18-2010, 11:17 AM
Morals are based on fear of punishment.

Ethics are based on doing the right thing, for its own sake.

blacbird
11-18-2010, 12:48 PM
Morals are based on fear of punishment.

Ethics are based on doing the right thing, for it's own sake.

Hmmm. I think almost exactly the opposite. Morals are inner qualities, ethics outer. We have to have ethics laws in place to persuade politicians to act ethically (doesn't always work, obviously; google Charles Rangel). I can think of any number of famous people who have behaved amorally, if not immorally, with little fear of punishment.

But maybe we're differing on definitions.

Mr Flibble
11-18-2010, 12:49 PM
I dunnow Medi. Many morals are based on a 'What, no way is that right!' feeling. :D

Anyway. Morals are personal (that gut feeling of what is right and wrong, to some extent), while ethics are social, part of the system in which those morals are applied. Ethics are the standards expected by the group in which you live. So, for instance I have my morals. They may or may not be the same as the standard ethics of the place in which I live.

gothicangel
11-18-2010, 01:19 PM
Jeez, transported back to semester 1 of my degree here.

Morality is a code that can only exist within a religious frame work. Ethics is a code that can exist within and without religion. Ethic's don't pertain to be 'the truth' [unlike morality.]

Using science as an example, science should always be ethical and never moral.

http://www.philosophyblog.com.au/ethics-vs-morality-the-distinction-between-ethics-and-morals/

Mr Flibble
11-18-2010, 01:22 PM
Jeez, transported back to semester 1 of my degree here.

Morality is a code that can only exist within a religious frame work. Ethics is a code that can exist within and without religion.

Or sometimes you can use a religion as an excuse for your morality.

seun
11-18-2010, 01:27 PM
Jeez, transported back to semester 1 of my degree here.

Morality is a code that can only exist within a religious frame work. Ethics is a code that can exist within and without religion. Ethic's don't pertain to be 'the truth' [unlike morality.]


Am I misunderstanding you (very possible as I haven't had any coffee yet), or are you suggesting morality can only come with religion?

gothicangel
11-18-2010, 01:32 PM
Am I misunderstanding you (very possible as I haven't had any coffee yet), or are you suggesting morality can only come with religion?

That's the philosophical arguement.

Okay: 'murder is wrong' the moral/religious stance on this is absolute. The ethical arguement would say, that there are instances where it is justifiable (euthanasia; abortion.)

Cyia
11-18-2010, 01:37 PM
But doesn't it being justifiable negate the designation of it as murder?

seun
11-18-2010, 01:40 PM
That's the philosophical arguement.


Yah boo sucks to philosophy in that case. I have no religion, but I do have morality.

Mr Flibble
11-18-2010, 01:42 PM
That's the philosophical arguement.



Crap then, isn't it?

Unless philosophy is saying people with no religion are amoral. And that, frankly, is both bollocks and demonstrably untrue.

They need a new argument.

ETA:

Okay: 'murder is wrong' the moral/religious stance on this is absolute. Your moral stance, or religious stance may say this. My moral stance may not be absolute and in fact take into account other things. So it's not absolute. Honestly, what are they teaching you these days? lol.

DrZoidberg
11-18-2010, 02:47 PM
There are many different ways to define them. I think it can be safely asserted that the most popular among contemporary philosophers is to use the definitions of Descartes. I'm just writing from memory now, so I apologise in advance if I'm not particular concise.

If we use his definition, the difference is that ethics is the pragmatic approach to finding what is right and wrong. We try to figure out what actions have what impacts on a person and society and try to figure out what the rational approach is to deal with it, or if we should. The key is to base it on a measurable cause and effect. It's not necessarily normative, but can be.

While morals come from an authority, possibly an external agent, possibly nature itself. These values of conduct are universal and can be defined objectively. They are also beyond question. Descartes had god in mind, but it isn't necessary for it's definitions. Atheistic utilitarians an example of such.

edit: We can with this definition approve of something ethically, while we disapprove of it morally (or the reverse). The example with the politician's gifts might be just one such distinction.
end of edit.

This is the default distinction I personally fall back on. But it isn't universal among lay-people or if you read older philosophical works. So the terms can be interchangeable, and isn't in any way wrong to treat them as such.

_Sian_
11-18-2010, 03:07 PM
There are many different ways to define them. I think it can be safely asserted that the most popular among contemporary philosophers is to use the definitions of Descartes. I'm just writing from memory now, so I apologise in advance if I'm not particular concise.

If we use his definition, the difference is that ethics is the pragmatic approach to finding what is right and wrong. We try to figure out what actions have what impacts on a person and society and try to figure out what the rational approach is to deal with it, or if we should. The key is to base it on a measurable cause and effect. It's not necessarily normative, but can be.

While morals come from an authority, possibly an external agent, possibly nature itself. These values of conduct are universal and can be defined objectively. They are also beyond question. Descartes had god in mind, but it isn't necessary for it's definitions. Atheistic utilitarians an example of such.

This is the default distinction I personally fall back on. But it isn't universal among lay-people or if you read older philosophical works. So the terms can be interchangeable, and isn't in any way wrong to treat them as such.

I just learned something for the day. Thanks. :)

In my mind, Ethics has a more practical, "apply to this circumstance but not another" feel to it. You can apply good ethics in the workplace because it can be built around that workplace and it's goals and expectations within society.

Morals are emotive, and personal. They don't change. (I have a feeling this is going to be a rather convoluted example. Ah well, let's see.) For example, a person with "loose morals" applies those morals to certain circumstances and not others. A person of hard morals is the opposite, they apply their morals to all circumstances. Ethics can get away with saying you can do this in this situation, but not this. If that makes sense

Hope that helps :)

WalkingContradiction
11-18-2010, 06:41 PM
I've read a couple of non-fiction books where the auther in the beginning says 'I will use moral and ethical interchangeably'. This always annoys me because there is a (small) difference.

Ethical is normative (or at least it has a specific maxime/goal). It's based on rules, and an own ethical system. It's more abstract. Not eating meat is an ethical decision if it's the product of elaborate reasoning. Think of armchair philosophers and ivory towers :)

Moral is less specific. It's more about what society tells you, or what just 'feels right'. A moral decision happens out of a feeling of empathy or duty. It isn't logically thought out and justified in the sense an ethical system would do that.

Susan Littlefield
11-18-2010, 07:13 PM
Morals are based on fear of punishment.

Ethics are based on doing the right thing, for it's own sake.

I see the point. Fear of punishment could mean anything from afraid of going to jail for robbing a house to being shunned by your peers for taking drugs. If we break our own moral ground, don't we generally feel guilty and beat ourselves up for awhile? Self punishment is the worst kind of all. We make the choice as to our morality.

Ethics are determined by the world around us. If we follow them, we are included in a community. If we don't follow them, we get kicked out or somehow reprimanded by that society.

MsGneiss
11-18-2010, 07:23 PM
Morals are based on fear of punishment.

Ethics are based on doing the right thing, for it's own sake.

I disagree. I think it's the exact opposite. Morality is something that's intrinsic (or, perhaps even innate) while ethics are extrinsic, more like a code of conduct determined by society. Therefore, morality is based on doing the right thing for its own sake, while you do the ethical thing because you want to abide by the ethical codes of your community.

MsGneiss
11-18-2010, 07:28 PM
"[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

Jamesaritchie
11-18-2010, 08:58 PM
Morality and ethics are not the same thing, whether used interchangeably or not. Christian do have ethics, but they also have a moral code that differs from the ethical code.

Morals are not based on fear of punishment, but on a distinct belief in what is and isn't right. Ethics violations are punishable, and politicians in particular, fear the punishment that a violation in ethics can bring. So do many business people.

And they are absolutes, whether anyone chooses to believe this or not.

Ethics are humanistic, based on society's beliefs, but morals are intrinsic, and nearly always based on religious belief.

Either way, violate either, and you're unethical and immoral.

Phaeal
11-18-2010, 09:50 PM
Absolute moral truth: "Its" is the possessive of "it." Whereas "it's" is the contraction of "it" and "is." *

Something about this topic has brought out the false possessive "it's" in people. Ethics requires me to state this. ;)



* except in some older literature, which came into existence before absolute moral truth reigned.

blacbird
11-18-2010, 11:59 PM
That's the philosophical arguement.

Whose philosophical argument?

Medievalist
11-19-2010, 12:22 AM
I disagree. I think it's the exact opposite. Morality is something that's intrinsic (or, perhaps even innate) while ethics are extrinsic, more like a code of conduct determined by society. Therefore, morality is based on doing the right thing for its own sake, while you do the ethical thing because you want to abide by the ethical codes of your community.

I note that morals, likes mores, derives from a root that means "custom." I further note that ethics descends from a root that means "character."

Also; morals are shared by culture groups; ethics are quite often matters of individual determination, apart from the culture group.

And for the general delectation of the forum, here's the sacred AHD entry on moral:


adj.
1. Of or concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character: moral scrutiny; a moral quandary.
2. Teaching or exhibiting goodness or correctness of character and behavior: a moral lesson.
3. Conforming to standards of what is right or just in behavior; virtuous: a moral life.
4. Arising from conscience or the sense of right and wrong: a moral obligation.
5. Having psychological rather than physical or tangible effects: a moral victory; moral support.
6. Based on strong likelihood or firm conviction, rather than on the actual evidence: a moral certainty.
n.
1. The lesson or principle contained in or taught by a fable, a story, or an event.
2. A concisely expressed precept or general truth; a maxim.
3. morals Rules or habits of conduct, especially of sexual conduct, with reference to standards of right and wrong: a person of loose morals; a decline in the public morals.
[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin m7r"lis, from m7s, m7r-, custom; see m*-1 in Indo-European roots.]
morZalˇly adv.
Synonyms: moral, ethical, virtuous, righteous
These adjectives mean in accord with right or good conduct. Moral applies to personal character and behavior, especially sexual conduct: "Our moral sense dictates a clearcut preference for these societies which share with us an abiding respect for individual human rights" (Jimmy Carter).
Ethical stresses idealistic standards of right and wrong: "Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants" (Omar N. Bradley).
Virtuous implies moral excellence and loftiness of character: "The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous" (Frederick Douglass).
Righteous emphasizes moral uprightness; when it is applied to actions, reactions, or impulses, it often implies justifiable outrage: "He was . . . stirred by righteous wrath" (John Galsworthy).

Mr. Anonymous
11-19-2010, 12:43 AM
IMO, as a philosophy major who took a course on Ethics last semester, and whose final paper was on "What is morality, and why should we be moral?" this is a debate of semantics. You know you're in trouble when a philosophy major accuses you of semantics.

Also, all due respect to gothicangel, but there are a LOT of philosophical views on morality. And a LOT of them do not rely on religion.

whimsical rabbit
11-19-2010, 01:01 AM
Interesting thread.

The only thing I have to add here is that the word "ethics" derives from Greek (ηθική, pronounced "ithiki"), and it really translates into 'morality' or 'virtue'. I understand this is probably not much help though. :e2tomato:


I further note that ethics descends from a root that means "character."

Really? Would you know which word that would be? I'm interested to know (shame on me). Character is another Greek word by the way: characteeras: χαρακτήρας. :)

Medievalist
11-19-2010, 01:28 AM
Interesting thread.

The only thing I have to add here is that the word "ethics" derives from Greek (ηθική, pronounced "ithiki"), and it really translates into 'morality' or 'virtue'. I understand this is probably not much help though.

I am, like the AHD, and Calvert Watkins, looking at the Indo-European roots, of both words. You're not going back nearly far enough.

You'll note it's listed in the entry I quote for moral *m*-1; and ethics is *s(w)e-



n.
1.
a. A set of principles of right conduct.
b. A theory or a system of moral values: "An ethic of service is at war with a craving for gain" (Gregg Easterbrook).
2. ethics (used with a sing. verb) The study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person; moral philosophy.
3. ethics (used with a sing. or pl. verb) The rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession: medical ethics.
[Middle English ethik, from Old French ethique (from Late Latin *thica, from Greek *thika, ethics) and from Latin *thic* (from Greek *thik*), both from Greek *thikos, ethical, from *thos, character; see s(w)e- in Indo-European roots.]

whimsical rabbit
11-19-2010, 01:51 AM
I am, like the AHD, and Calvert Watkins, looking at the Indo-European roots, of both words. You're not going back nearly far enough.

You'll note it's listed in the entry I quote for moral *m*-1; and ethics is *s(w)e-

You're right, I missed your post!

Ruv Draba
11-19-2010, 11:30 AM
Morality and ethics have been confused over the years, and for once I don't like adhering too closely to their etymological roots because the confusion goes back to the earliest uses of the words. For practical descriptions I endorse the distinctions set out in the St James Ethics Centre (http://www.ethics.org.au/) (disclosure: to which I am a sometime donor). Here it is in Ethics and Morality (http://www.ethics.org.au/content/ethics-and-morality):

Ethics is related to morality but it is not the same thing.

'Morality' comes from the Latin word 'moralis' which is more concerned with what we believe is good and evil (bad) or, right and wrong. Our morality is a set of 'pre-packaged answers', if you like, to the question posed by ethics: “what ought I to do?”. Our own individual morality gives us the values and principles for making our decisions when we are faced with that question.
So, morality need not be based on fear of punishment, need not be subjective, emotional, instinctive, cultural or arbitrary, but it is individual and both knowledge-based (in our understanding consequences) and values-based (in deciding what consequences are good). Morality can be based on received lore (i.e. what people teach us), but also experiential learning (i.e. what we discover for ourselves).

By contrast, ethics are informed by morality but represent the principles by which we wish to relate to one another. So "Killing is bad" is a moral proposition; "Respect Your Fellow Writer" is an ethical principle. We might arrive at similar ethics through slightly different morality, and we often do.


But while our morality is individual I also believe it is shareable, because:

humans are compassionate -- we know how to care for each other from the other's perspective and not just from our own; and
knowledge of consequences and impacts is shareable.
Ethics are also shareable, because we can make social compacts around them: I'll agree to respect your needs, and you'll agree to respect mine.

Because morality and ethics are discussable and shareable, I believe that any group of people that has an ethic to look after one another according to their needs, can work toward a shared morality -- even if their customs and values aren't always the same.

Promisingly, many cultures embrace the moral proposition that all human life is important, and the ethical principle that we should look after one another according to their needs. Among such people, shared ethics can help us build a shared morality and a shared morality can help us build shared ethics. But we can't do it by beating each other up with traditions and received lore -- we have to agree to experiment, challenge what we were taught, and update what we think we know.

Hope that helps.