The terms ethics and morals are frequently used interchangeably, primarily when used in contexts where an individual’s behavior or the goodness and badness of an action is in question; however, the two terms have different meanings. Ethics can be described as the values an individual uses to interpret whether any particular activity or behavior is considered acceptable and appropriate (Stanwick & Stanwick, 2016). While morals or morality at the very least, “is the effort to guide one’s conduct by reason, that is, to do what there are the best reasons for doing while giving equal weight to the interests of others” (Rachels & Rachels, 2019, p. 13). Ethics originate from the social or external systems such as codes of conduct, while morals are from a person’s principles regarding right and wrong. This essay will compare and contrast these two terms and then discuss how my worldview informs my ethics and morals by integrating biblical principles to support my presuppositions.
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Comparisons between Ethics and Morals
The difference between these two terms can be expressed using two frameworks: the teleological frameworks and the deontological frameworks. The teleological frameworks focus on the consequences, good and bad, resulting from the actions and conduct of individuals (Stanwick & Stanwick, 2016). There are three teleological frameworks which include ethical egoism, utilitarianism, and Sidgwick’s dualism. These three are also referred to as moral theories. First, I will discuss the teleological frameworks, then the deontological frameworks will follow.
To begin with, the ethical egoism point of view “claims that what an individual morally ought to do is what will be in their self-interest” (Stanwick & Stanwick, 2016, p. 6). Ethical egoism allows an individual’s self-interest to prevail as long as the other people benefit positively. While the utilitarian view involves maximizing the good deed to produce the utmost value and minimize the bad outcomes, thus actions that maximize goodness are acceptable, and those that do not are wrong. Lastly, Sidgwick’s dualism was developed when Henry Sidgwick attempted to bridge utilitarianism and ethical egoism. Sidgwick argued that “rational benevolence and prudence are necessary because the happiness of the individual is the common goal of the action and it would not be logical for an individual to sacrifice their own happiness to help others” (Stanwick & Stanwick, 2016, p. 6). Therefore, these three frameworks guide the actions of individuals by focusing on the consequences of their actions.
Conversely, deontological frameworks focus on the obligation or duty in determining whether an individual’s actions are right or wrong. Likewise, there are three deontological frameworks: Existentialism, contractarianism, and Kant’s ethics. Existentialism connects duty with action by claiming that each individual determines their actions and is ultimately responsible for the consequences of those actions (Stanwick & Stanwick, 2016). While contractarianism claims that affiliations in society come with certain obligations, and as a result, individuals conform to the customs of the community by founding a social contract with the other members of the society. Lastly, Kant’s ethics theory tries to connect between contractarianism and existentialism. He argued that “an individual should act in a way in which one would expect everyone to act if it were a universal will and to treat other individuals as the end, not the means to an end” (Stanwick & Stanwick, 2016, p. 7). Thus, these frameworks give the basis of ethical conduct in society. Therefore, from the above connotations, we can deduce that the teleological theories guide morality. While ethics stem from the deontological concepts, thereby defining the underlying differences between the two terms.
A worldview is “a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions that we hold about the basic constitution of reality” (Sire, 2009, p. 17). A worldview gives the basis on which individuals live and perceive their existence. Sire developed seven questions that would guide an individual in identifying their worldview. For instance, my worldview is the theistic worldview, where I believe that there only exists one God who is worthy of my obedience and worship.
In my worldview, God is the lawgiver who has given us rules that we should obey. Moreover, if we are to live as we should live, we must abide by God’s commandments, where what is right and wrong, good and bad, depends on God’s laws. The bible provides us with the basis for moral reasoning that shapes our conduct and character. For example, God commands us to shun evil thoughts such as deceit, envy, adultery, murder, and theft because they defile a person (Holy Bible, New Living Translation, 1996/2015, Mark 7:21-23). Therefore, I draw reference from the sacred scripture when making moral judgments, even in the absence of other people. On the other hand, codes of rules govern our conduct in society, such as state laws, federal laws, and workplace rules. These rules are used to evaluate whether our behaviors are acceptable and appropriate.
In conclusion, from a linguistic point of view, the two terms have more similarities than differences because whenever they are used, they refer to what is right and wrong in the eyes of society or an individual. Today, the moral is commonly used in the church, while ethics is used in business, law, or medicine. However, the terms are used interchangeably by ethicists unless one seeks to differentiate them.
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Rachels, S., & Rachels, J. (2019). The elements of moral philosophy (9th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.
Sire, J. W. (2009). The universe next door: A basic worldview catalog (5th ed.). IVP Academic.
Stanwick, P. A., & Stanwick, S. D. (2016). Understanding business ethics (3rd ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.
The Holy Bible, New Living Translation. (2015). Tyndale House. (Original work published in 1996)