Of Ethics And Morality 0









Of Ethics And Morality

A Comparison

Joseph J. Green

Northern Arizona University


Of Ethics And Morality

A Comparison

When explaining the differences between ethics and morality, many people don’t agree and often have opposing definitions. For the purposes of this paper, we shall define morality as an individuals inherent feeling of right or wrong given a specific action. “Ethics” we shall define as, how one ought to act in society.

It is difficult to grasp the explicit difference between ethics and morality. Definition disagreements make it harder still, but that is a semantic argument and irrelevant to the purpose of this paper. Suffice the say that the differences are there regardless of which definition we associate with which word. Equally difficult is to describe exactly how ethics and morals are similar. However, no matter how we look at these two subjects, it is clear that they are heavily intertwined.

When we speak of morality we ask ourselves, “Is this the right thing to do? Is it just? How would I feel if this act were committed against me?” So we may ask, “Is it okay to steal this bread?” Most people will answer “No, stealing is wrong,” or, “Well, it depends.” The people saying “it depends” are thinking along the ethical route. “My family is hungry, the only way I can conceive to help them is to steal some bread! Is it right to do this?” This may be the related ethical question. Many, morally, will say that it is always wrong to steal, but some, ethically, may say that the ends justifies the means. Morals tell us what is right and wrong on a basic intuitive level, whereas ethics show us how we ought to act. Morals and ethics are different, but they are also very similar. They both deal in right and wrong, but at different levels. Is it moral to feed a starving person? Perhaps, if we accept that charity is virtuous. Is it right to steal in order to satisfy the moral good of being charitable to a starving person? Perhaps, many wars were sanctioned just for this.

Regardless, morals and ethics are heavily intertwined, the old saying, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” fits well. If we choose to steal from a grocery store, an act that would be detrimental if committed against ourselves, it is not ethically sound as it harms, not only ourselves, but others as well. Businesses lose money and likely respond by raising prices, which lowers the value of other’s money in a given society. Without going into detail, this also suffers all the ramifications of breaching the social contract. However, should we choose not to steal, it is morally sound, if we consider stealing to be wrong, and it is ethically sound as it is what we ought to do. While doing the right thing morally isn’t necessarily always the right thing ethically, it’s a great place to start when trying to determine what is ethical.

Morality and ethics are not the same thing, but they are not so different either. It can be hard to find differences and similarities, but that is likely due to disagreement on what those differences are. However, within the given context above, the differences and similarities should be clear.