Difference between Ethics and Morals

From diff.wiki

Right and wrong conduct comes to mind when one hears of ethics and morals, but whilst the two terms are occasionally used synonymously, they are quite distinctive. Ethics are rules set by external sources whilst morals are intrinsic principles of a person concerning right and wrong. Ethics in broader terms is more of a social system for tolerable behavior that is set by culture, groups or workplaces for members to follow.

Although culture influences morality as well, morals are established and sustained by the individual. A great deal of the misunderstanding between ethics and moral is caused by their similar origin. Whilst ethics can be traced back to the Greek word (ethos) which denoted moral philosophies or customs, morals originated from the Latin word (moralis), which described right conduct and manners in the public. Hence, the two terms had quite similar meaning originally.


In terms of flexibility, ethics are found to be consistent in a given environment but may vary considerably between environments. For instance, 21st century work ethics within the medical profession are largely consistent from one hospital to another yet it varies from the ethics guiding the legal field in the same period.

Moral principles rarely change even in different context. However, it is probable for an individual to change personal values or beliefs following certain events. As expected, ethics and moral conflict in many situations especially during professional duties. A lawyer defending a criminal is a good example where ethics sometimes conflict with moral codes. The ethics of the legal field requires an attorney to defend a client to the best of his ability, even when he is aware of the client's guilt, but his morals can tell him that the criminal deserves to be punished. Differentiating ethics and morals is principally important to philosophical ethicists.

Ethics Morals
What are they? Rules of conduct adopted by a specific group or culture. Principles of right or wrong conduct.
Origin External - social system. Internal - individual.
What pushes people into following it? Societal influence. Personal inclination.
Flexibility Ethics tend to be consistent, but may vary from one place to another. Morals are generally unwavering as long as beliefs remain unchanged.
Origin Greek word "ethos" (character). Latin word "mos" (custom).
Acceptability Ethics are guided by legal and professional codes within a given context. Morality goes beyond societal norms.