Morals versus ethics

Ethics and morals are two different words used to distinguish right from wrong. The word ethics can be traced back from a Greek word known as an ethos that means customs. Morals came from a Latin word, moralis that stands for appropriate behavior. Although both words are used to distinguish right from wrong, morals are individual principles, while ethics are accepted behavior among a certain group of people.

The words are used interchangeably by people who can hardly tell the difference. However, professions such as academics, religion and the legal profession can distinguish them. Ethics highlights what is right and wrong in a society or a profession, for instance, in the nursing and legal profession; practitioners have a code of ethics that outlines how they are expected to behave. Ethics are consistent however they vary from group to group. The code of ethics for doctors is different from that of lawyers.

Morals are personal beliefs of what is wrong and what is right. In the western world, they are mostly associated with religion. An individual may believe that polygamy is wrong. An individual might have morals that conflict with ethics, for instance, a lawyer who strongly opposes murder and who believes that murderers should be punished may get a client who has killed. The lawyer must protect the client. Also, the nursing profession is against euthanasia; however, a nurse may believe that a patient has the right to choose whether to live or to die.

Although morals are consistent, they change whenever a person changes their beliefs. Ethics differ depending on the time, place and group. They are created by a group of people and are mostly associated with professions. Ethics are highly discussed and deliberated on before they are enshrined in the code of ethics. Morals are created by the individual. They act as a compass to guide individual deeds. A person without morals can highly abide by the ethics of a society. An individual may also have morals that conflict with the ethics of a society, for instance, a society may have no problems with adultery. However, an individual’s morals may highly oppose adultery.

While ethics represents a code of ethics followed by a group of people, morals represent personal beliefs about what is wrong and what is right. Ethics are externally defined by a group of people while morals are personal. Failure to abide by a code of ethics can lead to punishments such as revocation of a license or termination of a contract for professions such as nursing. There is no punishment for going against morals. However, individuals feel guilty whenever they go against their morals.


Wellman, Carl. Morals and ethics. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Forssmann, 1975.

Jamestown, Andrew. Nursing practice: Ethical issues. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984.

Durkheim, Emile. Professional ethics and civic morals. Rout ledge, 2018.

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