Ethics vs. Morality

Within our common parlance the terms morality and ethics are usually used interchangeably although moral and immoral tends to be employed more than ethical and unethical. Using terms such as these without defining them causes a lot of confusion so, let us attempt to nail them down.

By definition morals refer to the mores which merely describe that which people do.

Thus, by definition; morality is relative, situational, culturally determined, etc.

Within our common parlance the terms morality and ethics are usually used interchangeably although moral and immoral tends to be employed more than ethical and unethical. Using terms such as these without defining them causes a lot of confusion so, let us attempt to nail them down.

By definition morals refer to the mores which merely describe that which people do.

Thus, by definition; morality is relative, situational, culturally determined, etc.

By definition ethics refer to the ethos which actually prescribes that which people out to do.

Thus, by definition; ethics is absolute, universal, etc., is applicable to all people in all times and all places—regardless of chronology, geography and worldview.

Some want to employ the definition of ethics whilst using the term morals and thus refer to universal morals. I did this myself when I debated an Atheist at Wilfrid Laurier University (see video here). I did this so as to not divert a debate about the source of morality in to a debate about semantics. What I did is to define my terms in my opening statement.

Considering that we are becoming a one world global village; it is quite evident to us that, as defined above, there are morals but no ethics (although some define ethics as a body of morals). However, when we dig beneath the surface we can see ethics at work behind the scenes.

In the Southwest of the USA there are pockets of populations which are made up of Native Americans and also of Spaniards. When, as has happened numerous times, the Spaniards want to raise a statue of a Conquistador, the Natives complain. This is because to the Spaniards the Conquistador is a hero but to Natives the Conquistador is a villain.

Now, on the surface, we may think that this is solely indicative of morality. Indeed, at one level it is morality as both sides see the Conquistador in vastly different ways. Thus, the views are relative, situational, culturally determined, etc.

However, what is going on below the surface? Well, both sides are in agreement. How so? Both sides celebrate heroism and both sides condemn villainy.

Consider the draft dodgers who absconded to Canada from the USA so as to not be drafted into the Vietnam War. Some see them as cowards for refusing to serve their country and fight and some see them as brave for sticking it to the man, for siding with peace, etc.

Now, on the surface, we may think that this is solely indicative of morality. Indeed, at one level it is morality as both sides see the draft dodgers in vastly different ways. Thus, the views are relative, situational, culturally determined, etc.

However, what is going on below the surface? Well, both sides are in agreement. How so? Both sides celebrate bravery and both sides condemn cowardice.

With this manner of discernment in mind you can dichotomize between apparently sole morality and note the ethics. Indeed, all cultures are the same in this way; they celebrate kindness, heroism, bravery, etc. and they condemn selfishness, villainy, cowardice, etc.

And, by the way, when a culture seems to celebrate selfishness, villainy, cowardice, etc. and condemn kindness, heroism, bravery, etc. they are not really doing so. Think, for example, of how in Nazi Germany persecution and mass murder was celebrated. Well, the issue is that the Nazis had to justify their actions and sell them as a positive thing; they were ridding the gene pool of less evolved organisms or what have you.

And did you notice the point? They have to “justify their actions” because the culture would react against them in accordance to ethics and so they have to force the culture to believe the morality. They had to propagandize the culture into accepting unethical behavior as being moral; it was moral because it is what they, en mass, chose to do.

Thus, this article serves as a simple thought experiment and guide which results in showing just how YHVH could write His laws, His absolute, universal ethos, on our hearts (see Jeremiah 31:33 along with Hebrews 8:10, Romans 2:15, etc.) but also have so much cultural diversity. This also pertains to free will as just because a law is written does not mean that we will choose to follow it.

For more info see articles here and videos here.

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