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The 6 differences between ethics and morals

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In everyday speech we normally use the words "ethics" and "moral" synonymously; However, there are important differences between the two terms, or at least this has been the case throughout history.

Although they are closely related, there are at least 6 differences between ethics and morals, and it is advisable not to confuse these concepts with each other. These refer to multiple characteristics, both conceptual and epistemological.

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Definition of ethics

Ethics is a branch of philosophy that studies and systematizes the concepts of good and evil, as well as other related ones. This discipline aims to rationally define what constitutes a good or virtuous act, regardless of the culture in which it is framed.

Ethical systems, consisting of prescriptions regarding the behavior patterns that people must follow, have traditionally been proposed from philosophy and religion.

Ethics is considered originated in the time of Ancient Greece

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; the philosophy of Plato and that of Aristotle, as well as Stoicism or Epicureanism, are some of the first manifestations of the use of this term.

During the Middle Ages, Christian ethics predominated in the Western world, later expanding to much of the world. Later philosophers like Discards, Hume or Kant would recover ideas from the Greek masters and would contribute in a key way to the conception of ethics of the following centuries.

Definition of moral

Morality is defined as the set of norms that govern the behavior of people who are part of a given society, so that they can contribute to the maintenance of stability and social structure.

The concept of morality is usually related to conformity with the implicit and explicit laws of a group social, which are transmitted to individuals within the socialization process to which they undergo throughout their growth. In this sense, the moral part of the traditions and values ​​of the context in which we grew up.

Morals arose in all probability as a natural consequence of the organization of human beings in groups. As societies became more complex, the norms of interaction that structured them would have become progressively transformed into moral rules and explicit laws, especially with the appearance of writing.

Religions have had a great historical weight in the establishment of moral codes. While in the Western world Judaism and Christianity have largely determined social norms, in Asia Buddhism and Confucianism have largely done so.

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Differences between ethics and morals

Many people are of the opinion that today the concepts 'moral' and 'ethics' basically mean the same thing, at least from the point of view of colloquial language.

However, from a theoretical and historical point of view we can find several differences between these two terms.

1. Object of interest

Morality is responsible for determining which behaviors are appropriate and which are not in a given context, while Ethics refers to the general principles that define what behaviors are beneficial to all people.

Ethics is a normative discipline and morality is descriptive; thus, ethics differs from morality in that it seeks to define correct behaviors, rather than those that are accepted by a society.

In other words, if ethics is a rather static element that serves as a reference to understand the type of behaviors that regulate functioning of society in a given context, morality is applied in nature, taking into account everything that intervenes in the decision to act in one way or another.

2. Area of ​​application

Ethics is at the level of theory, trying to find general principles that favor harmony between people. By cons, the moral tries to apply the rules determined by ethics to a large number of specific situations, according to the description of what happens in each case.

Therefore ethics has a theoretical, abstract and rational character, while morality refers to the practical, telling us how we should behave in our daily life through more or less explicit rules and statements.

3. Origin and development

Ethical standards are developed by specific people through reflection and evaluation of what is understood by human nature. These individuals will subsequently apply the rules to their conduct.

In some cases individual ethics can influence large numbers of people, even becoming a tradition; This has happened frequently in the case of religions, systematizations of the ideas of their prophets. Once this point has been reached, we would go on to speak of morality to refer to the intergenerational transmission of such an ethical system.

In a synthetic way we can say that ethics has an individual origin, while morality is derived from the norms of our social group, determined in turn by a previous ethical system. Morality is the generalization of that kind of descriptions about what is good and what is bad, its way of forming an abstraction about what should be done and what should be avoided.

4. Choice

As we have said, ethics starts from individual reflection, while morals has a more taxing and coercive nature: If a person does not comply with social norms, it is likely that he will receive a punishment, be it social or legal, since morality cannot be created by a single person, but has to do with shared ideas of what is good to do and what is bad or what should even be a reason for punishment.

Ethics is based on the intellectual and rational value that individuals give to their attitudes and beliefs, to difference from morality, which is determined by culture and is therefore rather irrational and intuitive. We cannot choose morality, only accept or reject it; therefore, it has to do with conformity with the norms of our social group.

5. Influence mode

Moral norms act in us from the outside or from the unconscious, in the sense that we internalize them non-voluntarily as we develop within a social group determined. We cannot stay out of them; we always keep them in mind, either to defend them or to reject them.

Ethics depends on voluntary and conscious choices, since this concept defines the identification and the follow-up of certain norms in order to act in the way that seems correct to us from a personal point of view. In addition, being rather individual in scope, it gives a certain margin to reflect on whether something is right or not, depending on the circumstances.

6. Degree of universality

Ethics has the claim to be universal, that is, to be able to be applied in any context, since ideally it starts from the guided use of thought, not from blind obedience to norms rigid. This discipline seeks, therefore, to establish absolute truths that remain as such independently of the context in which they are applied, as long as the person has the ability to act rationally. Kant, for example, tried to raise objective ethical principles, above culture or religion.

By cons, morality varies according to society; behaviors that may be accepted in some social groups, such as gender violence or exploitation infantile, would be considered immoral by people from other societies, as well as from a point of view ethical. In this sense we can say that morality is largely influenced by cultural relativism.
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