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What’s the Difference Between “Ethics” and “Morals”?

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Matters of good versus evil and right versus wrong can weigh heavily on one. But have you ever wondered if these concepts revolve around “ethics” or “morals?” Surprisingly, these terms aren’t always interchangeable. This post will delve into the difference between “ethics” and “morals.”

White text over green background reads "Ethics vs Morals".
There are overlaps and distinctions between “ethics” and “morals.”
Quick Summary

Morals usually refer to personal beliefs influenced by factors such as society, culture, and individual experiences. Ethics are guidelines established by communities or specific groups outlining acceptable and unacceptable actions or behaviors.

Ethics and morals are profound and significant defining aspects of humanity. But before exploring these thought-provoking concepts, it’s important to understand the distinctions between the two. Below, we’ll provide you with clear explanations and practical examples to equip you for informed discussions on the difference between ethics and morals. 

Let’s learn! 

What Are “Morals”?

Morals are individual guiding principles that distinguish between right and wrong and are influenced by society, experiences, and personal beliefs. Although they can vary based on culture and location, some morals appear constant regardless of external settings. According to anthropologists at the University of Oxford, some of these universal moral rules include bravery, family values, and fairness, to name a few. However, we must clarify that although these concepts seem to transcend cultures, they can also be depicted differently worldwide.

Please note that the word moral can function as both a noun and an adjective. As a noun, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines morals as “modes of conduct.” In this sense, the word is typically used in the plural form.

I didn’t cheat on the test because that goes against my morals.

However, moral can also be a noun that means “the significance or practical lesson behind a story or experience.”

The moral of the story is that it is better to study than to cheat.

As an adjective, moral is commonly used to describe something as “concerned with the principles of right or wrong in behavior. The opposite of moral is immoral. 

After contemplating the issue, she made what she considered to be a moral decision.
I was shocked to find out the boss was such an immoral person.

It’s also important to explain that morality is a noun that refers to these guiding principles—or morals—as a whole. On the other hand, immorality is its antonym and means “the quality of being wicked” or “lacking morals.”

We had a long discussion about morality and immorality in our psychology class.
“Moral” vs. “Morale”

Be aware that there’s a word that’s spelled similarly to moral but doesn’t carry the same definition. Morale is a noun that means “the confidence or enthusiasm of a person or group.”

  • The team’s morale was high after winning the final game.

Quote by Ernest Hemingway reads "So far, about morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."
The concept of morals has been written about and debated for centuries.

What Are “Ethics”?

Ethics also involves principles of right and wrong, but these guidelines are usually set by  specific groups or communities. A typical example is the code of ethics followed by doctors, regardless of location or setting. Similarly, lawyers have to follow an established code of ethics. Although it’s often claimed that morals are the foundation of ethics, the latter revolves more around community values than personal ones. 

Imagine a lawyer who has to defend a client he knows is guilty. Although doing so may go against the lawyer’s morals, it does not go against the ethical standards universally followed by lawyers. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ethics as a noun that means “a set of moral values.” 

We must consider the ethics before we decide. 

The adjective form of this word is ethical. There is no direct antonym for ethics, but the opposite of ethical is unethical. 

We must make an ethical decision. 
We tried our hardest to avoid making an unethical decision. 
Quote by Albert Camus reads "A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world."
Although they have distinctions, the words “ethics” and “morals” are often used interchangeably.

“Moral” and “Ethical” Examples

Below, you’ll find a few examples that effectively juxtapose moral and ethical situations.



An employee believes using company time for personal activities is wrong. 

The company’s code of conduct prohibits using company resources for personal gain. 

A doctor believes assisting patients with euthanasia is immoral. 

Some medical guidelines allow for euthanasia, depending on the country or state. 

An investor believes that investing in tobacco companies goes against his morals. 

The company the investor works for states that investing in tobacco is acceptable because it will benefit the company and their clients.

A student believes that sharing his homework is a moral act because it is generous. 

The university strictly prohibits sharing work and classifies it as cheating and, therefore, unethical. 

A lawyer tells the judge that his client is guilty because defending him would have gone against his morals. 

Lawyers believe that doing this strongly goes against ethical practices. 

As shown in the examples above, sometimes morals and ethics overlap, and sometimes they don’t.

The Difference Between “Morals” and “Ethics”

In short, although morals and ethics are two terms that are often used interchangeably, it’s essential to be aware of their subtle but significant differences. Morals are personal beliefs that guide behavior based on good versus bad and are influenced by culture, society, experiences, and more. Conversely, ethics are a set of guidelines that are established by specific communities or groups and indicate correct versus incorrect principles. Remember these generalized key differences:

Morals are more ideological, while ethics are more practical.
Morals are based on the desire to be good, while ethics define acceptable behavior.
Morals are related to personal beliefs, whereas ethics refer to community (or group) values.

As we’ve explored the nuances of morals and ethics, it becomes increasingly clear how precise language is crucial for effectively communicating complex ideas. Another way to ensure you’re clearly conveying the messages you want to express is by using LanguageTool. This AI-driven writing assistant has numerous features to help you perfect your writing, including grammar checks, style suggestions, vocabulary enhancements, and more. 

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