What Is the Difference Between Ethics and Morality

By Mary Smith. Updated: February 21, 2017
What Is the Difference Between Ethics and Morality

The meaning of the words ethics and morality may appear the same, but they are not. There are nuances that indicate that ethics and morality are two terms that complement one another, but whose meanings are quite different. In the following OneHowTo article we show examples and definitions to determine the real meaning and difference between ethics and morality.

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Steps to follow:

In general terms, the difference between ethics and morality is that the first is a philosophical and scientific study whilst morality is purely practical; this means that ethics talks about reason and philosophical reflection but morality refers to those actions we do daily during our lives.

If we analyse both words etymologically we find they have the same original meaning:

  • "morality" comes from the Latin term "mos" (custom)
  • "ethics" comes from the Greek "ethos" (custom)

But nowadays, with the evolution of language, both meanings have slowly grown apart to end up with two total different meanings. Next, we're going to analyse them in detail to understand their basis.


We'll start by analyzing what morality is to understand its initial difference with ethics. It's a series of principles, values or rules that are what drive our behavior. Morality is the one that determines our actions and the one that marks the limits we don't want to trespass. Nowadays, morality is also known as "principles" and is precisely referred to the array of own rules we follow on a daily basis in order to act with what we feel is correct.

On a sociological level, morality can also be determined by culture and a society or group of people's way of life. Some rules or principles are transmitted through generations in a same group of people that establish moral principles on which they have created their society.

What Is the Difference Between Ethics and Morality - Step 2

Now we'll focus on the meaning of ethics. It's all about reflecting on the principles that will then be part of our morality and, therefore, is the philosophical part that will determine the behavior we'll submit ourselves to in order to live in a society pacifically. That is to say, it's the previous thought, the reflexive part that our acts form.

For example, vegetarians are a kind of person that defends by their principles or ideas (by their own ethics) that they won't eat meat (morality); these "principles" have flourished from a previous reflection about the situation, which has resulted in a final conclusion: not to eat meat.

Within ethics we find several branches such as Deontology, take a look at the differences here.

What Is the Difference Between Ethics and Morality - Step 3

Therefore, as we've seen, the difference between ethics and morality is that the first is a reflection on a specific act in our life that will mark your morality; whilst from these reflective conclusions we'll extract the moral behavior that will mark our lives.

We should also highlight that ethics has a totally personal and individual basis as it is from the reflection that conclusions can be extracted at a personal level (such as the example on not eating meat) but can also bring social rules that involve a bigger number of people (for example, the idea of not eating meat that Muslims follow).

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Rebecca schneider
Morality is based by faith and religious belief. Ethical is derived by rules and regulations.
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