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Mark Egan wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • What is the difference between morals and ethics?


  { What is the difference between morals and ethics? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Mark —

Thanks for the question.

The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy states that the word ethics is:

"commonly used interchangeably with morality ... and sometimes it is used more narrowly to mean the moral principles of a particular tradition, group, or individual." (Wikipedia)

For example, the medical profession has their own set of ethics which is relevant to them but not, in general, entirely independent of morality.


Mark replied:

Hi Eric,

Thank you very much for your response.

Other sources have called ethics applied morals.

I've read somewhere that a distinguishing difference is that ethics are man-made.

Thanks again.

Mark Egan

Eric replied:

Hi, Mark —

I wouldn't necessarily say that ethics are man-made. Man-made implies that they are arbitrary or relative; that there is no eternal or objective truth to them. Perhaps in a sense they are given definition by man in civil society and law, but their source is often the objective natural law.
It's simply recognized and codified by man.

For example, a good example of an ethical principle is the Hippocratic Oath, which begins,

First, do no harm.

  • Is this man-made?
  • Or simply recognized by men as true?

It's a moral truth that basically applies to every citizen. I think what makes this ethical is the fact that it is applied to doctors specifically.


Paul replied:

Mark —

Ethics/morality is not man-made but man-discovered; however, often the secular world will use the term ethics to mean man-made-popularly-acceptable-at-the-time morality.

The secular, agnostic world will have books and college courses titled:

  • business ethics
  • sexual ethics, and
  • medical ethics

but would never call them:

  • business morality
  • sexual morality, or
  • medical morals

because, to them and to much of the contemporary world in general, morality denotes our behavior in relation to God, whereas ethics leaves God out of the equation.

That being said, a believing Christian has no problem using the terms interchangeably.


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