These two words are often used interchangeably and the meanings confused. Yet at the same time you will hear people referring to “ethics and morals.” Question is, do they know the difference or have they just gotten used to saying the phrase?
Ethics refer to a set of principles; the philosophy or theory relating to principles. You will often hear the term “code of ethics,” referring to a set of rules/principles in a workplace. These ethics will describe the company’s approach to matters such as discrimination and work practice. Without wanting to confuse you, it should be noted that principles is itself a synonym for morals, although morals aren’t ethics.
Morals are more like beliefs than principles, based on teachings and often guided by societal or religiously driven standards. Morals generally refer to the way in which people behave in relationships and wider society. To put the two words in context, one lives according to one’s morals but adheres to one’s ethics while doing so. Morals are the tools by which one lives, whereas ethics constitute the manual that codifies them.
The word moral may be familiar to you in terms of a “lesson”. You will probably have heard the phrase, “The moral of the story…,” or perhaps “The moral majority.” The “moral of the story” is the lesson to be learned from a particular incident that indicates how best to behave to benefit positively. “The moral majority” refers to a moral standard adhered to by the majority of “decent” living human beings. The quality of having qualities consistent with high ethics is referred to as morality. It should be noted though that referring to one’s self as “moral” or “of high morality” is to be self-righteous. It is best left for others to judge your level of morality.
Lastly, we have the variations amoral and immoral. Immoral is to consciously act against societal norms, whereas amoral is to be without morals and to operate with seemingly no sense of morality.