George Locke

The two words have slightly different emphasis, but they both refer to the same thing: justice, right conduct, duty. The word “morals” might have some sense of the transcendent for some, but basically, ethics and morals are synonyms.

Posted: May 22nd 2012

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Blaise www

In my experience, it’s best to think of morals as being a program, and ethics as being the computer it runs on. Morals are a system of beliefs and values about the nature of right and wrong. Ethics are the implementation of those beliefs in a person’s life.

For example, a hypocrite might believe him or herself to be a very moral person, in that they choose to believe in a system of right and wrong very strongly, but in reality, they are completely unethical, in that they often act contrary to those morals.

Posted: May 2nd 2012

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brian thomson www

There are all kinds of definitions out there, and the one I use is not found in a dictionary, so not everyone would agree with it. It’s like this:

Morals are “top-down”: when you follow morals, you’re doing something (or not) because you have been told to do so by your “betters”. You were not involved in the decision and there is no chance that you ever will be. “Thou Shalt Not” is a moral proscription.

Ethics are “bottom-up” or “emergent”: they arise naturally when groups of people share common interests, agree on what they should and should not do, and wish to provide guidance to others. You find Ethics in fields such as Medicine or Engineering.

People adopt ethics by choice if they want to be a member of a group and enjoy the benefits arising from membership – as mandated by the group, not imposed by an authority. There may be an appointed group of peers overseeing the ethics, but they did not create the ethics and impose them on others; the ethics would exist regardless.

Doctors take the “Hippocratic Oath”, for example, and there is (believe it or not) a concept of “legal ethics”, though I’m not sure how well it works in practice. There is no universal set of ethics for Engineers, but there are generally-agreed guidelines for interaction with customers. In Canada there is the option of undertaking The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer (written by Kipling), affirm an “Obligation” (not swear an oath), and wear an iron or stainless steel ring to show your dedication to ethics in Engineering. A similar “Obligation” is becoming more popular in the USA: the text of the Obligation may be found in this document .

Posted: May 2nd 2012

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