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Ethics vs. Morals

This is interesting - Art commented in another thread that "prostitution is unethical."

I think Art may think it's *immoral* (relativism) but that it's not unethical (which I was thinking was more objective and absolute).

But now I'm wondering - what's the difference between morals and ethics?

Philo
Permalink Philo 
January 15th, 2006
I suppose strictly they are the same thing but I tend to think of morals as being more associated with religion or sex while ethics are more independent and global.
Permalink Ross 
January 15th, 2006
Morals -> Cultural, religious or traditional notions of what is right and wrong.

Ethics -> Branch of philosophy dealing with how to determine what it right and wrong.
Permalink Eric Debois 
January 15th, 2006
First of all: morals comes from Latin, ethics from Greek.

Ethics is part of philosophy, it is a doctrine.

Morals are about an individuals behaviour, about his will.

And of course it is all about good and bad. Which makes it highly subjective and relative if you don't believe in a word of God.
Permalink Erik Springelkamp 
January 15th, 2006
I thought the rule of thumb is if it's about money it's ethics and if it's about sex it's morals. I suppose it would depend if the objection was to the shagging or just the charging for it.
Permalink a cynic writes... 
January 15th, 2006
"I thought the rule of thumb is if it's about money it's ethics and if it's about sex it's morals."

Is burglary immoral or unethical?
Is having sex with a subordinate immoral or unethical?

Crimes are immoral; breach of trust is unethical. Abusing power may be both.

Tricky little sucker to pin down...

Philo
Permalink Philo 
January 15th, 2006
My take on it is morals is about following socially accepted norms, and ethics is about following a code of conduct with regards to your treatment of others.

So it might be immoral to be, for example, gay (sodomy, etc.), but there's nothing ethically wrong with it since you're not harming anyone else. It would be unethical to ridicule someone else for being gay, unless your code of ethics said gays should be ridiculed.

There's significant overlap, and one informs the other (and v.v.), but there is, at least in my mind, a distinction.
Permalink MarkTAW 
January 15th, 2006
Hmmm, bad example. Being gay is perfectly moral too, I guess I was postulating a homophobic world, mostly I was thinking of the current political climate.

So let me revise: Morals have to do with your behaviour with regards to yourself, ethics has to do with your treatment of others. Also, when I think ethics, I think of stuff like contractual obligations, businesses, doctors, lawyers, etc. So morals is more about your friends, family, etc. and ethics is more about your professional relationships, which I guess overlaps with money.
Permalink MarkTAW 
January 15th, 2006
I've always seen morals as something fundamentally arbitrary and cultural in nature, and ethics as an application of logic to behaviour.

An ethical code has to have a "because" somewhere, but a moral one doesn't.

For example, taking money that nobody owns, or even knows exist. You find a bag of money, that no one has any claim on what so ever, and this is known to you. (It's a hypothetical situation).
There can be nothing unethical about taking it for your self. It can however, (any probably would by some) be considred immoral.
Permalink Eric Debois 
January 15th, 2006
In philosophy, they are generally considered interchangeable. Certainly, one's neither more or less relativistic than the other.
Permalink Mongo 
January 15th, 2006
There are two common ways by which ethics is differentiated from morality.

The lexical difference is somewhat akin to the difference between "shapes" and "geometry". Morals is defined as a set of ideas that are intrinsically good or bad. Ethics is defined as the study of morality. With such definitions there is no conflict, as the latter is just a formal representation of the former.

The other more subjective kind of difference pertains to effects of actions. Again, morality identifies actions that are ipso facto considered good or bad, based upon personal, cultural and sometimes legal habits and/or diktats. In this light, Ethics pertains to labeling of activities whose results/effects are good or wrong bad. Good & bad, having been identified by the morals of the person who judges*. With this set of definitions there are chances of conflict. A set of actions may be identified by the judge as good, e.g., not reneging on a contract. Another set may also be defined as good, e.g., not killing a person. The conflict occurs when the contract is to kill.

Common scenarios in professional life where such conflicts occur are "Whistleblowing", "Robin Hood-ism" and "Euthansia". The actions per se are "un-ethical" but the results are "morally accepted", for a given set of definitions as defined by the judge.

To make a crude attempt at simplifying, "Ethics" refers to what is "Right". "Morals" refer to what is "Good". The difference between "Right" and "Good" will be the subject of discussion some other weekend.

* - "Judge" here refers to individual making the subjective self-evaluations.
Permalink KayJay 
January 15th, 2006
The difference is only important for those who want to do bad and get away with it.

I have been told that in Japan there is no bad if you are not caught. Or maybe when nobody knows.

'We' on the other hand have absolute bad because God sees everything. This notion is seated so deep in western philosophy that it still infiltrates these discussions.

When you kill a man, and nobody misses him afterwards, there is no 'bad'. There is only 'bad' when society turns against the killer. Your consciense is imagining that society would find out. Which is usefull of course.
Permalink Erik Springelkamp 
January 15th, 2006
> When you kill a man, and nobody misses him afterwards, there is no 'bad'. <

I imagine he might miss him.
Permalink MarkTAW 
January 15th, 2006
He is not here to miss himself.
Permalink Erik Springelkamp 
January 15th, 2006
He is dead, you know.
Permalink Erik Springelkamp 
January 15th, 2006
If somebody does miss him, but you don't know about it, has a crime been committed?
Permalink AllanL5 
January 15th, 2006
Cool, so if nobody misses anyone in Iraq (say, we dropped a bomb on them killed all of them) there's no problem there, right?
Permalink MarkTAW 
January 15th, 2006
I guess that the only way to insure nobody is missed is to blow up the whole planet.

Then there is no bad, indeed :-)
Permalink Erik Springelkamp 
January 15th, 2006
Sweet. Genocide is morally justifiable.
Permalink MarkTAW 
January 15th, 2006
(and actually preferrable to killing just a few people)
Permalink MarkTAW 
January 15th, 2006
Just to show what Ethics can do for you :-)
Permalink Erik Springelkamp 
January 15th, 2006
I usually describe it as:
Morals are an EXTERNALLY imposed set of rules and values.
Ethics are an INTERNALLY imposed set of rules and values.
Permalink Peter 
January 15th, 2006
Professional ethics are determined and maintained by whichever professional body.
Permalink Simon Lucy 
January 15th, 2006
Like ethics rules for attorneys?
Permalink Philo 
January 15th, 2006
Yep. In the US (I think) they're determined by the Bar they act in, but in England and Wales they're created and enforced by The Law Society, though that's supposedly about to change.

My wife worked in the Ethics Department for 15 years advising on them.
Permalink Simon Lucy 
January 15th, 2006
>> Professional ethics are determined and maintained by whichever professional body.

What do you mean by this? Are you saying they're invented by the professional bodies, or simply catalogued and interpreted, or what?
Permalink Mongo 
January 15th, 2006
Ethics are rules governing behaviour in relation to others. So professional bodies (doctors, lawyers, etc.) may set out rules regarding the required behaviour of their members. The rules of ethical behaviour thus apply to external actions, whereas the internal morals of a given individual may be more lax so that such an individual may not choose to uphold the same ethical standards given a free choice.
Permalink Ian Boys 
January 15th, 2006
As Ian says, the code of ethics for a particular profession is created by the professional body. In essence that is the definition of a profession in that they are regulated in their trade and behaviour. Lawyers like to point out that teachers are not professionals because they have no such external body.

Well in England there's the smallest baby of one but its non-statutory and most teachers would be pushed to name it.
Permalink Simon Lucy 
January 15th, 2006
Of course the code of ethics itself is created; but from what, and to what purpose? The point of the question is to determine whether you believe the professions are listing already extant moral codes specific to the profession's domain, or alternatively are creating them, so to speak, ex nihilo.

If they already exist, then the question is obviously from whence they come. If newly invented, by what means and justification.

The only reason I ask is that, while you are of course correct that professional ethics are to a large (but not complete) extent under the purview of the respective professional associations, this knowledge sheds little light on the underlying questions in this thread, even with respect to the limited case of professional ethics.
Permalink Mongo 
January 15th, 2006
Such an ethical system is shaped in order to make the profession as strong as possible.

It must create trust to the outside world, and help the members in making decisions in difficult situations.

They are based on very long traditions that are evoluting as society demands it.

Before everything else they should prevent outside regulations as much as possible.
Permalink Erik Springelkamp 
January 15th, 2006
>> Such an ethical system is shaped in order to make the profession as strong as possible.

And if the strongest possible result could be achieved by way of immoral actions, would this then be the appropriate course to take?

>> It must create trust to the outside world,

But need it be justified in that trust, other than as a practical matter?

>> and help the members in making decisions in difficult situations.

I've yet to see a professional ethics code that would meet this standard. Seriously.

>>They are based on very long traditions that are evoluting as society demands it.

Umm, ok, I guess.

>>Before everything else they should prevent outside regulations as much as possible.

From your first sentence, I would imagine? Why, could you not imagine a situation in which outside regulation would be better than a flawed internal set of strictures?
Permalink Mongo 
January 15th, 2006
Because outsiders have other interests then the professionals themselves.
Permalink Erik Springelkamp 
January 15th, 2006
>> Because outsiders have other interests then the professionals themselves.

Sure they have other interests. Sometimes conflicting. Does that make the professionals' interests somehow more important to anyone but the professionals?
Permalink Mongo 
January 15th, 2006
That's why they work so hard to keep their Ethics acceptable and yet working to their own advantage.
Permalink Erik Springelkamp 
January 15th, 2006
By the way, that is the princeple of all politics: invoking ethics in order to improve your interests.
Permalink Erik Springelkamp 
January 15th, 2006
>> that is the princeple of all politics: invoking ethics in order to improve your interests.

I'm not sure if you're serious or not, but no, it is not. Sadly, it is often the case, but not by any means always the case.
Permalink Mongo 
January 15th, 2006
ethics = general rules derived through logical analysis.

morals = subjective opinion on right and wrong.
Permalink Kenny 
January 16th, 2006
white collar crime = unethical
blue collar crime = immoral
Permalink a2800276 
January 16th, 2006

This topic was orginally posted to the off-topic forum of the
Joel on Software discussion board.

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