Ethics Part 1: Ethics and Morals

I want to do a series of posts on ethics to examine the topic from a variety of angles. Ethics is something I've gained a lot of enjoyment from studying formally, and another thing that I enjoy is sharing knowledge. I'll start with a post that short and sweet by clarifying the difference between ethics and morals.

Ethics, academically speaking, is the branch of philosophy concerned with questions of morality and ethical behavior. Ethics in more practical terms are codes of behavior created by and applied to groups, be they cultural, national, or professional. These ethical standards are the guidelines for what behaviors the group finds acceptable or "right," and deviating from them is "wrong."

Morals are personal. Everyone has a moral compass which is calibrated uniquely (more on the various moral compasses in the next post). This is your own sense of what is right and wrong.

Ethics and morals will not always align. A doctor having a sexual relationship with a patient may not be considered immoral if the doctor is not exploiting vulnerabilities of the patient, but it is always considered unethical by modern professional ethics. On the other side of the coin a defense lawyer may find murder immoral and know his client is guilty, but legal ethics require that every defendant be given a sincere defense regardless of what their lawyer thinks of them. In both of these examples it seems that ethical codes should trump personal morals. Should that always be the case? Why or why not?

Now that I've explicitly stated the meanings of the words I'll try to make sure that I use them correctly for the rest of the series. Feel free to hold me to that with some good natured chiding if you spot a mistake. I think I'll also try to leave an open ended question like the one above in all the posts for this series as well.

In search of reason,


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