Intro To Philosophical Concepts 0

Intro To Philosophical Concepts:

A Test Of Words

Joseph J. Green

Northern Arizona University

It has been suggested that if a collage offered two courses, one titled “Introduction To Ethics” and the other “Introduction To Morals”, that there would be a completely different expectation from the course. Personally, aside perhaps from basic classes involving rhetoric or math, few, if any, courses were anything related to what I expected based on the course title and descriptions. However, I still have ideas on what a class may contain biased solely on the title, and in this case, I would think that the morals class would be the more interesting. Granted, I would likely question the difference between these courses with an advisor, and indeed, likely take them both considering that philosophy is my primary interest with college. Though, solely from the titles alone, it would seem to me that there would be a difference on focus between the two classes, if only because there are two separate classes offered. Even then, it would appear that many sources, even educational institutions, can’t seem to agree on, or if there even are any, the differences between ethics and morals.

Morals and ethics are both interesting, but to me, when I think of morals, I think more about judgement about issues, and philosophical debates, as opposed to strict standards of living, and I enjoy the concept of an argument based solely on reason and feeling. Facts and verified results are all well and good, but trying to focus on using reason, and having others try to debunk that reasoning, makes for an amazing display of our ability to think, which is vastly more interesting to me to in day to day life. Morals also seem to imply a strong focus on what is right and wrong for an individual to do. Is it right to kill a man in situation A? How about in situation B? That alone can lead to hours of enlightening discussion. Morals, by the word alone, simply sounds like it would be more interesting than ethics. Morals creates an image that we are going to learn about how people think about things, ethics feels like we’re going to learn about some proper way to act.

While ethics is certainly fascinating, it feels more to be a set of rules that are typically based upon, though do not necessarily follow, morals. The focus of a class based on ethics, as opposed to morals, would likely study philosophies on how to interact with the rest of society. What do I do to ensure that I’m doing the best thing for my society? What actions must I take, or not take, in order to avoid harming others? Of course, it doesn’t have to be quite so utilitarian, it could simply be trying to be a proper person in a specific culture. It’s about how we ought to act. For example, perhaps we should eat in a certain way that is respectful to the ethical person’s culture, or perhaps we avoid saying certain things in an effort to protect others from what they may find disagreeable. These are all interesting concepts and ideas to study, but they also seem to stem from the basics of morals. We don’t find ourselves with proper ways to live our lives without first examining issues on the smaller scale.

A morals course, on the other hand, would focus more on the individual and feelings. What am I doing to my neighbor? Is it okay for me to steal from him? Is it okay to lie? Why is stealing wrong even if people are to suffer if we do not engage in that act? Is it not better to satisfy the hunger of ourselves or others, than to avoid stealing from a man who eats in luxury? Should I not lie in any circumstance? Am I more or less responsible if I lie as opposed to telling the truth? What if it would be to save another’s embarrassment? His life? What about my own? I would expect a morals class to focus more on the smaller individual to individual scale, while ethics focuses on the larger individual to societal scale.

Ignoring my own feelings on the subject, it would appear that many can’t agree on the specific differences between ethics and morals in the first place, which makes it harder to understand what the difference between the two class titles mean to any one individual. First, let’s take a look at Princeton’s PHI 202: “Introduction to Moral Philosophy”:

An introductory survey of ethical thought, covering such topics as the demands that morality makes, the justification of these demands, and our reasons for obeying them. Readings from both the historical and contemporary philosophical literature. (“Course Descriptions”, 2018)

From what I understand of the above description, morals are nothing more than a component of ethical thought. Next, let’s look at what Ben Eggleston says about his “Introduction to Ethics” class with University of Kansas:

This course provides an introduction to those problems of philosophy that are problems of moral philosophy, or ethics. (“Introduction to Ethics (syllabus)”, 2018)

This could mean one of two things. Either, morals and ethics are the same thing, or that there is a difference between what we call moral philosophy, which would still be the same as ethics in this case, and what we simply refer to as morals. Now let’s take a look at what University of Massachusetts Amherst has to say about the subject in regards to their “Introduction to Ethics” course:

This course is an introduction to the philosophical study of morality, including the theory of right and wrong behavior, the theory of value (goodness and badness), and the theory of virtue and vice. (Introduction to Ethics. [online], 2018)

Here we see that ethics is explicitly, “the philosophical study of morality” (Introduction to Ethics. [online], 2018). So does this mean that ethics is nothing more than the study of morality? That it isn’t actually something similar, yet somewhat different, from morals, but that it’s just the study of morals? It would seem that all three educational institutions see that ethics and morals very related, perhaps without even an explicit difference. In spite of this, it is still easy to see how a potential student would expect something different from each class title, even if they read the descriptions as well, given how ambiguous they are.

With two courses, “Intro To Ethics” and “Intro To Morals”, I would certainly find the latter more likely to appeal to me. I believe a morals class would have more interesting discussion, by far, than an ethics class. We can use reasoned arguments and point out fallacies to help stimulate each others ability to think and understand the world around us. The classes would likely have a difference in their primary focus. The focus of ethics being a set of rules on how we ought to act, and that of morals having a stronger focus on how we feel about how we act. This is, of course, only my own interpretation of what these classes would be like. Others would likely come to different conclusions about the contents of each class, especially if we take into consideration that most people either don’t understand, or don’t agree with, the differences and definitions of ethics and morals; indeed, they are very similar subjects. Even educational institutions can’t seem to point out a specific difference.


References (2018). Introduction to Ethics (syllabus). [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Jan. 2018]. (2018). Introduction to Ethics. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Jan. 2018]. (2018). Course Descriptions | Department of Philosophy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Jan. 2018].