Morals are the internal (emphasis on internal) guidelines and principles that a person uses to justify doing or not doing an act. Some people have more, some people have less. Some people hold their morals to be sacrosanct, not changeable, and without compromise. Others not so much; their morals are merely suggestions for certain behaviors, and flexible or changeable depending on the situation at hand.
Ethics are the external (emphasis on external) guidelines and principles that a person uses to justify their actions. Ethics are imposed on a member of society in a number of different ways. Some of the easiest to identify are the laws and regulations that a society passes and chooses to enforce. Others are not so easy to quantify, and come under the guise of tradition, peer pressure, childhood development, or other indoctrination (political/religious).
“Ethics” are the standards and practices expected in a particular profession. “Morality” deals with questions of right or wrong in general. Sometimes the two clash
Here are some examples.
- A doctor treats a man in his 20s for an STD. He is required to keep his knowledge of his patient’s condition confidential. Within days, he meets his niece’s new boyfriend–that same patient. Ethics would demand his silence; morality might demand he warn her.
- An attorney assists a client during a police interrogation. The client reveals to that attorney that he did commit the crime. Another person who is completely innocent is subsequently charged with the crime. If convicted, that person faces the death penalty. Once again, ethics would demand the attorney’s silence; morality would demand that the attorney reveal what he knows.
- A financial officer managing a pension fund refuses to purchase stock in a tobacco company even though research indicates that this stock will sharply increase in value. She refuses to make the investment because people she knew died from lung cancer connected to their use of tobacco. Ethics would say that she owes a fiduciary responsibility to the investors whose funds she manages and should disregard her personal feeling. Morality might say that investing in a tobacco corporation makes it more possible for that company to grow and market cancer-causing products.
- Ethics focuses on the decision-making process for determining right and wrong, which sometimes is a matter of weighing the pros and cons or the competing values and interest. Morality is a code of behavior usually based on religious tenets, which often inform our ethical decisions.
- Morals come from within. One’s own internal compass. Ethics are more extrinsic rule sets to guide us all.
- Ethics is what I believe and say I believe, morality is what I do. Integrity is what I will have if my ethics matches my morality.
- Ethics…it would be NICE, CONSIDERATE to do. Morality…what you SHOULD do; what is RIGHT.
- Ethics deals with codes of conduct set my policies in the workplace and morality is the standards that we individually set for ourselves in regards to right and wrong.
- Ethics is a set of principles developed purposefully over time. Morality is something one feels intuitively.
- Ethics is a map of how one makes choices. Morality is an established code that can be used to judge behavior.
- I think of ethics as something that is changeable, dependent on circumstances or the understanding/norms of the time a decision is made. Morality is more of an inherent truth that doesn’t change, or changes very little.
- I think of morality as being personal — what MY principles and boundaries are. Ethics are more of a standard — rules or policies of how one should act.
- Ethics contains standards of what should be. What we “ought” to do. Morality is more of what we do – how we actually behave – focused on what “is”.