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Difference between ethics and morality?

Enter here to explore ethical issues and discuss the meaning and source of morality.
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Zoe
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Difference between ethics and morality?

#1 Post by Zoe » January 2nd, 2008, 11:53 am

I see the two words being used interchangeably all over the place but is there actually a difference?

Noggin
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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#2 Post by Noggin » January 2nd, 2008, 6:25 pm

Today I happened to read the argument that ethics is a sub-category of philosophy that deals with morals and that ethics refers to the theory while morals are axioms for the practical application of ethics.
It is the still and silent sea that drowns a man. -- Old Norse Proverb

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Alan H
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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#3 Post by Alan H » January 2nd, 2008, 7:54 pm

Noggin wrote:Today I happened to read the argument that ethics is a sub-category of philosophy that deals with morals and that ethics refers to the theory while morals are axioms for the practical application of ethics.
Yes, I agree, but for practical purposes they tend to be used interchangeably - unless you're a philosopher!
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

Firebrand
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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#4 Post by Firebrand » January 3rd, 2008, 10:32 am

Alan H wrote:Yes, I agree, but for practical purposes they tend to be used interchangeably - unless you're a philosopher!
Hmmm...I'm not sure that they are used interchangeably for practical purposes. Although they are roughly synonymous, I think that they tend to be used slightly differently. For example, we talk of 'code of ethics' not code of morality/morals. We use 'ethical' in some contexts when we wouldn't say 'moral' and vice versa e.g. ethical companies, unethical management, loose morals, moral fibre.

According to the Oxford dictionary, it is possible to be an ethical person without necessarily being a moral one. It distinguishes between ethics as conformity to a code of fair and honest behaviour, particularly in business or a profession, whereas morals refers generally to accepted standards of personal conduct.

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Alan H
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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#5 Post by Alan H » January 4th, 2008, 12:28 am

I think what I meant was that they tend to be used interchangeably by the general public (and the media?). Julian Baggini said:
Ethics is the study of human conduct - not what people actually do, but what they should do...Morality can be seen as a subset of ethics. A moral code is set of rules that prescribes how we should act, with the implication that to act otherwise is to do something wrong...Morality thus has a sense of rules and constraint which ethics need not...the distinction [is] between an ethical sense of the good and bad, which is to do with how well life is going, and a more moralistic sense of good and bad and evil, which is to do with breaking moral laws.
Making Sense - Philosophy behind the headlines, P58-59.
So this agrees with what Noggin said.
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

Diane
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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#6 Post by Diane » January 10th, 2008, 11:31 am

If we want to be strictly correct, I think we have to be wary of looking at how individuals or organisations use the words because they can be wrong and it's better to look at neutral sources such as dictionaries. My research reveals that ethics is derived from the Greek and that Baggini's definition is in keeping with the original usage of the word. The Greeks treated ethics as something to study and deduce. Morality comes from the Latin and, as a concept it was given substance by the early Christian Church in Rome, who used it to define behaviour arguing, of course, that their definition was God-given.

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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#7 Post by Occam » April 6th, 2008, 7:35 pm

I was curious about that years ago and did some literature research. The best I could find was that ethics are the principles and morals are the actions. However, I don't care for that so I've defined them for myself sort of the way people generally use them.

First, an example: You are driving at the legal speed limit in the left lane. A car driving at high speed comes up behind you and flashes his/her lights. You have two choices - move right and let the person pass, or stay in the left lane so the person has to drive at the legal speed limit.

I believe staying there is the moral choice - imposing the general rules on others.

Moving right is the ethical choice - doing what you can to ease the life of others.

The problem is that you don't know whether the other driver is a nut who likes to drive recklessly or has his/her spouse who is having a heart attack lying in the back seat.

Occam

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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#8 Post by Maria Mac » April 6th, 2008, 9:30 pm

I had to translate your example so it made sense to me (and perhaps other slow learners from the other side of the pond from you):

>>First, an example: You are driving at the legal speed limit in the right lane. A car driving at high speed comes up behind you and flashes his/her lights. You have two choices - move left and let the person pass, or stay in the right lane so the person has to drive at the legal speed limit.<<

Ah - that's better! Yes, an interesting example, Occam. Is it really an ethical/moral issue at all? Borderline, I would have thought.
Occam wrote:
I believe staying there is the moral choice - imposing the general rules on others.

Moving right is the ethical choice - doing what you can to ease the life of others.
Your calling one of these 'moral' and the other 'ethical' seems totally arbitrary to me but if it works for you, fine. :D
The problem is that you don't know whether the other driver is a nut who likes to drive recklessly or has his/her spouse who is having a heart attack lying in the back seat.
Indeed. If this were presented as a moral dilemma, I'd have to go with the moving out of the way option because I don't know his situation, nor do I want to antagonise a possible maniac and risk life or limb as a result. I have too many people who depend on me.

Occam
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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#9 Post by Occam » April 7th, 2008, 12:02 am

Had I noticed this forum is based in the UK, I would have said "fast" rather than "left" lane, and similarly, "slow" rather than "right" lane. Sorry.

Quote Maria:
Indeed. If this were presented as a moral dilemma, I'd have to go with the moving out of the way option because I don't know his situation, nor do I want to antagonise a possible maniac and risk life or limb as a result. I have too many people who depend on me.
Precisely. I see an ethical person as doing just that. I see a moralist (usually religious) as not even considering the person's situation, but wanting to control his/her behavior.

Your second reason is intelligent, but pragmatic and separate from ethical considerations. Well, not really. Separate from the other driver, but not from those who depend on you.

Occam
edited to correct typo

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Alan H
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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#10 Post by Alan H » April 7th, 2008, 12:10 am

Occam wrote:Had I noticed this forum is based in the UK, I would have said "fast" rather than "left" lane, and similarly, "slow" rather than "right" lane. Sorry.
No need to apologise! Maria and I are in Scotland and we have a number of members from here, but we are truly international with quite a few from the USA.
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

Diane
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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#11 Post by Diane » April 7th, 2008, 11:08 am

Maria wrote:nor do I want to antagonise a possible maniac and risk life or limb as a result. I have too many people who depend on me.
This is quite thought-provoking. It seems a responsible way to think but try using the same rationale in a different situation. If you had a good chance of overcoming a maniac who was about to kill a load of innocent children, would you risk life and limb to do so or would you put you and yours first again?

(I don't mean to be provocative, I just find the who subject of how we decide what is moral/ethical absolutely fascinating as well as bewildering).

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wattsll
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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#12 Post by wattsll » April 7th, 2008, 3:55 pm

(post edited/adjusted after more thought while eating dinner)

Diane,

In the situation you lay out, the questions that I think need to be answered are: 1) Should the viewer act? 2) Can he/she act? 3) Would action make the situation better or worse? and 4) Will the viewer act if he/she can?

Before answering them, I offer these definitions:
Morals: motivation based on ideas of right and wrong ("morals." WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. 07 Apr. 2008. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/morals>.)
Ethics: the philosophical study of moral values and rules ("ethics." WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. 07 Apr. 2008. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ethics>.

Using the definitons above, I think question 1 addresses the morality of the viewer. I'd hope that anyone can see it as wrong to let a madman kill a bus load of children. A possible ethical discussion would be whether or not it's right to harm the madman in order to save the children. I don't think either morality or ethics factor in on the second or third questions. Rather, they are answered by considering proximity to the situation and the viewer's skills and physical ability to act. The fourth question poses the largest dillema, but the answer to it falls squarely on the viewer's courage to act. Courage on the viewer's part can be directly attributed to his/her moral strength and conviction.

Also using the above definitions, another separation between morals and ethics can be demonstrated here in this post. The decision to act in a given situation takes into account the viewer's morals. The discussion in this post and on this forum on whether the viewer was right or wrong in his/her act would be an ethical discussion.

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Emma Woolgatherer
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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#13 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » April 7th, 2008, 5:32 pm

Occam wrote:First, an example: You are driving at the legal speed limit in the [overtaking] lane.
Why are you in that lane? Are you overtaking someone?
A car driving at high speed comes up behind you and flashes his/her lights. You have two choices - move [into the driving lane] and let the person pass, or stay in the [overtaking] lane so the person has to drive at the legal speed limit.

I believe staying there is the moral choice - imposing the general rules on others.
And what kind of morality dictates that we, as individuals, should take it upon ourselves to impose the general rule on others?
Moving right is the ethical choice - doing what you can to ease the life of others.
And by which ethical system?

I think you're making a spurious distinction here. Though Diane's explanation for the difference between "morality" and "ethics" makes a lot of sense, the terms "ethical" and "moral" are more or less equivalent in modern usage, even though each has its own special contexts (e.g. we hear of the "ethical consumer" but not of the "moral consumer"; the "moral majority" but not the "ethical majority"). They're even etymologically similar: 'moral' comes from the Latin mos, meaning custom, and 'ethic' comes from the Greek ethos, meaning ... custom. Moral/ethical systems, like customs, vary considerably. Aristotle's ethics were very different from Plato's. Kant's were nothing like Hume's. Tony Blair's are worlds apart from Harold Pinter's. I don't think anything can be gained by trying to find, or create, a clear distinction between the two terms, outside philosophical usage (and perhaps not even there).

Besides, I'm not convinced that ethics or morals need come into the decision in this particular example at all. The questions here, surely, are what is legal, what is prudent and what is conventional. If you 'impose' the general rule of sticking to the speed limit on the car behind by staying in the overtaking lane, you are breaking the general rule (in the UK, at least) that when you've finished overtaking you should get back into the driving lane. If you're overtaking a long line of slower-moving traffic then that's another matter. But if you're not, you should move into the driving lane, whether there's someone behind you or not. Moreover, if the driving lane is empty then there's a risk that the car behind you will decide to overtake on the inside, thereby breaking another general rule. The other problem is that (in the UK, at least) the convention, or custom, is for people to break the speed limit when they're overtaking, and to treat the overtaking lane as a 'fast' lane. Driving at 80 mph in that lane is the norm. If you (the driver in question) have a moral objection to that, then perhaps you should campaign for a more rigorous enforcement of the speed limit. You shouldn't attempt to 'impose' the speed limit single-handedly. That smacks of vigilanteism.

But hey, what do I know? I don't even drive! :D

Emma

Occam
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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#14 Post by Occam » April 10th, 2008, 2:54 am

Emma, to answer you in order.

1. In most places in the U.S. the fast lane is not considered an overtaking lane in that one can drive in it at any time.

2. As I see it, that's how most moralists (ardent theists) think. They see it as their duty to assure that everyone follow the rules. If the speed limit is 25 miles per hour (40 km/hr?) they feel that if they can prevent someone from exceeding the speed limit they should do so.

3. I was using my system of ethics. Principle number one is Help others when you can and avoid hurting anyone if reasonable.

Maybe I'll post the five Principles I define as the basis for my secular ethics.

Occam

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Emma Woolgatherer
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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#15 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » April 10th, 2008, 10:18 am

Occam wrote:In most places in the U.S. the fast lane is not considered an overtaking lane in that one can drive in it at any time.
Considered by whom? If you mean by most drivers, then the same thing would probably be true in the UK. But that's not how the law considers it. As I understand it, in most parts of the US the (formal) law of the highway is also that slower traffic should keep right and that you should move left only when you're passing the slower traffic. (I believe that the formal term for the "fast lane" is actually "passing lane".) For example, the Florida Traffic Classes website has: "Always drive on the right side of a two-lane highway except when passing. If the road has four or more lanes with two-way traffic, drive in the right lanes except when overtaking and passing." Of course, if the traffic is congested then both/all lanes will be in full use, but as I understood it that wasn't the case in your example.
As I see it, that's how most moralists (ardent theists) think. They see it as their duty to assure that everyone follow the rules. If the speed limit is 25 miles per hour (40 km/hr?) they feel that if they can prevent someone from exceeding the speed limit they should do so.
Huge assumption there. A moralist may simply be someone who teaches or promotes morals (or ethics), but is often seen as someone who moralises in a specific (and pejorative) sense, that is someone who makes moral judgments in a priggish or heavy-handed way. You're associating the word "moral" with that particular kind of moralist, which isn't fair. A moralist may be an ardent theist, but not necessarily. A moralist may be someone who sees it as his/her duty to ensure that everyone follows the rules (including, perhaps, the rule: "pass on the left, then move right"), but it ain't necessarily so. There are many kinds of moralist, and many kinds of morality.
I was using my system of ethics. Principle number one is Help others when you can and avoid hurting anyone if reasonable.
Fine. But that could just as easily be someone's moral principle. And someone else may have a very different ethical perspective. You're just picking two moral/ethical approaches and assigning them arbitrarily to the terms "morality" and "ethics". No, not arbitrarily, but on the basis that the ardent theists you have in mind are more likely to use the term "moral" and that you yourself, and perhaps other secularists you know, prefer the term "ethical". But that preference need not be universal, and even if it were it need not reflect a true difference in definition.
Maybe I'll post the five Principles I define as the basis for my secular ethics.
That would certainly be interesting. Maybe we could start a new thread on our own personal ethics. Or morality, or course. :wink:

Emma

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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#16 Post by Occam » April 10th, 2008, 6:23 pm

It is by law, not by the desires of the drivers. Emma, fascinating that you should pick Florida law, because I've driven in about thirty-five of the fifty U.S. states and Florida is the only state that I know of that specifies the left (using U.S. system) lane as a passing lane. In California, for example, the Drivers' Handbook suggests that slower drivers move right and states that a slower driver must move right if four or more drivers are immediately behind him/her. There are no prohibitions against driving in any standard lane unless one is a truck or pulling a trailer. (I used "standard" so someone couldn't bring up car-pool lanes as an exception.)

If you go back to my first post, I believe I said that I defined the difference between morality and ethics FOR MYSELF. I then gave an example. My subsequent posts were responding based on my personal definition.

Again, from my PERSONAL experience, I stand by my evaluation of strong theists as often being moralistic (according to MY definition).

I consider myself a nit-picker, but really. . .

Occam

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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#17 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » April 10th, 2008, 7:11 pm

Occam wrote:Emma, fascinating that you should pick Florida law, because I've driven in about thirty-five of the fifty U.S. states and Florida is the only state that I know of that specifies the left (using U.S. system) lane as a passing lane.
I wasn't basing my response solely on the Florida example, as it happens. I had found various websites that seemed to support my claim, including a Georgia-based blog called, "Don't be an ass. Keep right except to pass", which I didn't cite as it clearly wasn't ... er ... official. And the Wikipedia (yes, I know I shouldn't rely on that!) entry on passing lane has: "Common Practice and most law on United States Highways is that the left lane is reserved for passing and faster moving traffic, and that traffic using the left lane must yield to traffic wishing to overtake." My point was, in any case, that it's the law that's important in your example, not perceptions about morality. I just got a bit carried away with the nit-picking. :D
If you go back to my first post, I believe I said that I defined the difference between morality and ethics FOR MYSELF. I then gave an example. My subsequent posts were responding based on my personal definition.
Right. Well, clearly you can define words for yourself any way you want to. But once you offer up definitions here for our perusal, then we're entitled to poke at them a little, aren't we?
Again, from my PERSONAL experience, I stand by my evaluation of strong theists as often being moralistic (according to MY definition).
That wasn't the issue. The issue was whether a moral choice is necessarily one that imposes a general rule on others.
I consider myself a nit-picker, but really. . .
Awwwww. I'll admit to gratuitous nit-picking about the passing-lane business, but I don't think the rest was nit-picking. It was ... it was ... quibbling. :wink:

Emma

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grammar king
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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#18 Post by grammar king » April 11th, 2008, 1:21 am

Occam, your examples of what's moral and what's ethical seem completely arbitrary to me, you could just as easily have put them the other way around.

The way I see it it's two words, meaning more or less the same thing, but sometimes used in different ways. A la 'house' and 'home', 'alley' and 'ginnel'.

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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#19 Post by MedMae » April 11th, 2008, 8:31 am

This website makes a interesting distiction between the morality and ethics.
http://www.modern-thinker.co.uk/3%20-%20Morality.htm

Morality is described as "the sum of socially accepted desires and values of the age."

Ethics is described as a "way of adopting standards through a process of intellectual analysis of the choices available." and also as "the stage beyond morality and virtue".

This diferentiates them into the societies standards and the individuals standards if the individual chooses to look beyond what society considers to be right.
Complexity is just simplicity multiplied to a point which exceeds a particular level of comprehension. - Theowarner

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Re: Difference between ethics and morality?

#20 Post by John Dowdle » June 5th, 2008, 12:18 pm

I think the introduction of driving into this discussion has created more confusion than clarity.

To get back to the original subject, "What are the differences between the concepts of ethics and morality?" I see morals as being based on the word 'mores'.

The use of 'mores' implies to me that these are general values which are shared usually by a majority of any population. The concept of general moral values will include the ideas that murder or assault on people is a bad thing. That unrestricted taking, larceny or theft of other people's property can lead to criminality, violence and social breakdown. These are values that all rational people in any society can understand and live by.

Ethics, on the other hand, are often shared by a minority of the population.

So, we get medical ethics committees in hospitals, where they may have to make difficult decisions on new surgical procedures, which may raise questions like "Should this operation be allowed or undertaken?" "Is the benefit of this new procedure likely to offset greater ills in the future or is it just a novel or one-off benefit; if this is the case, should the resources involved be used on less resource-intensive procedures that that will benefit a greater number?"

Purchasing Managers have their own code of ethics, such as not accepting bribes or gifts from existing or potential suppliers, which may influence which suppliers are successful in gaining supply contracts from their business or other form of undertaking. They are under a general duty to act in the best interests of their employers in securing the best deal for them - and not a personal or selfish benefit just for themselves.

Overall, I see the differences between morals and ethics as nowadays being between mass values and minority values. They probably coincide almost identically on many value-judgment areas but there may be clear ethical differences sometimes between the majority and the minority.

A clear example of this is seen in the attitude between the majority of the UK population who favour the re-introduction of the death penalty and the minority who do not. For the majority, it is a simple moral value that those who kill should themselves be killed. However, a minority adopts an ethical stance that the system of justice/law frequently makes mistakes, which can lead to perfectly innocent people becoming judicially murdered.

In the case of capital punishment in the UK, the moral majority is held in check by an ethical minority. It may not be exactly democratic but it could be argued that providing ethical leadership on some values is preferable to caving in to the bayings of a moralist media.

What do you think?

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