Morality vs. Ethics

Are they the same thing? DrCrypt says the difference is purely semantic. I say it’s not.

I don’t care what the dictionary says because dictionaries suck.

I want to know what the commonly held understanding is about these two things.

Here are my definitions of morality and ethics. I think these definitions describe what people generally mean when they talk about this topic.


Standards of conduct that are essentially cross-cultural and fixed. Behavior that is immoral would be immoral at almost any time and in almost every culture. Murder, rape, theft, and adultery are prime examples.


Standards of conduct that are not cross-cultural or fixed. These standards are highly contextual and exist in the gray region between things that are clearly wrong and things that are clearly acceptable. Attorney/client relationships, physician/patient relationships, and other professional relationships are often governed by standards of ethical conduct.

Here’s the key:

Immoral acts are essentially context-free. It doesn’t matter whether somebody rapes the girl down the street or the prostitute in a foreign country. It’s always always wrong.

Unethical acts are highly dependent on context. It is unethical for a doctor to talk about his patients to his next-door neighbor, but there is nothing wrong with a doctor talking about his patients with another doctor who is consulted about the case.

I think most people see a pretty clear difference here. Except DrCrypt apparently.


Wow, Spoofy. Me and my OED must have really touched a nerve if your passionate denunciation against the most common usage of the word “ethical” has to be split up into two different threads in order to contain the width and breadth of its righteous indignation and legion of rolly-eyes emoticons. But I’m going to contain my rebuttals to the original thread, thanks. Especially since your post here is pretty stoopid and is definitely trying to distort the context of our original argument. And especially especially because this is the sort of conversation that will have Koontz here within five seconds pontificating about universality in that creepy “Pedophile Criswell” voice of his.

Hey DrCrypt, I’m just trying to prevent hijacking of the fine Strategy guide thread.

Anyway, I’d like to see whether Apekid thinks he is immoral or merely unethical for all of his offenses against your lordship.

(Just kidding Apekid!)


Morals are not cross-cultural; they are rather specific to cultures.

“Murder” is a broad word. Do you include the human sacrifice, capital punishment, abortion in this? Fuzzy logic applies.

As for “unethical,” it would be unethical for a lawyer to introduce evidence into a trial proceeding that may have been excluded by the judge – even if the evidence proves his client’s innocents. Withholding such evidence could be considered immoral.

What a messy discussion this could be.

“Morals” are merely core values. I have never seen a philosophical definition of the term that implies that they are cross-cultural, though certainly many moral authorities (the Catholic church, for instance) believe that their moral values are absolute. “Ethics” are usually defined as applied morals–practical rules of conduct derived from core moral values.

Are too!

What a messy discussion this could be.


I believe ethics are far more infallible than morals, and hence I eschew the latter.

To me, morals imply a religious underpinning upon which the action is based, making morals the far more relative one.

It was totally moral, in Osama’s eyes to crash two jets into the World Trade Centers, beacuse his twisted view of religion tells him he is doing Allah’s work.

On the other hand, the killing of innocents is can only be justified in ethics when doing so is a side effect of an otherwise highly important (and ethically correct) situation.

Are too![/quote]

Are not!

I’ll meet you by the swings at recess and we can “talk” about this.

You’re both right. Think of a Venn diagram…

I agree with you Lloyd, there’s defininitely an area of intersection, but the Venn diagram you’re thinking of has some areas that don’t overlap, DrCrypt seems to be implying complete overlap. Morality = Ethics.

Spoofy, your definition is the exact opposite of mine. I’ve always read that morals are culturally specific, while ethics transcend time and place to provide universal principles. For example, female circumcision is “moral” in many cultures, but viewed with abhorence by those who place ethics above morality. In fact, the multi-cultural crowd dislikes the concept of ethics, since it mandates value judgements about the relative worth of various viewpoints.

Ethics by definition are supposed to be universal rules of conduct. It is a solecism to consider them to be personal or subjective. However, you may well disagree with the idea of universal ethics, and therefore may legitimately disagree that such a concept is meaningful or valid.

A moral individual necessarily behaves ethically, assuming you agree ethics exists as such.

An individual who behaves ethically however, may or may not be moral or regard themselves as being moral; for example they may fear the consequences of unethical behavior, or they may adhere to a code of honor which requires ethical behavior that they personally would otherwise rather not conform to.

Thus morality is a relation between conscience and individual choice, but ethics has to do with actual conduct.

Why is no one quoting “Election” yet? Maybe Tom can help.

Well, that’s the last time I go spouting off about how I’m sure everybody will agree with me.


Boy was I wrong. At least it’s not like you all agree with DrCrypt though.


I’m pretty sure I studied this in high school… but five years ago is such along time ago.

What a useless thread this is. Everyone is just jumping in saying “I define ‘moral’ as X and ‘ethical’ as Y.” “I think ‘ethics’ are what Spoofy calls ‘morals’ and ‘morals’ are what Spoofy calls ‘ethics.’” Since I don’t want to go read that gigantic strategy guide thread, is there any point to this? Is Spoofy’s point that some ethical/moral/whatever choices are universal while some are culturally based? Is DrCrypt saying that all such choices are culturally based, and there’s no universal right and wrong?

I’m just going on record to say this is one of the most ridiculous topics I’ve ever seen on these boards. This place is going to the dogs.

– Xaroc

Well, I’ll go on record stating that I love topics like this, and think that this board is the better for them.

Nyah nyah nyah :P

Well, I’ll go on record stating that I love topics like this, and think that this board is the better for them.

Nyah nyah nyah :P[/quote]

I don’t really mean that it was directly pasted from here.

– Xaroc

I’m not following you, Xaroc. What does a thread about losing your reflexes as you get older have to do with ethics and morality?