Morality and Ethics

A Note on Morality and Ethics

The words morality and ethics are often used interchangeably, with one or another carrying emotional connotations depending on circumstance. While there is no universally agreedupon definition of either word, there is a widely held consensus among philosophers on usage. On the one hand, morality refers to the choices an individual makes about right and wrong based on personal conscience and feelings. On the other hand, ethics refers to systematic thinking about right and wrong, leading to principles from which we may try to make decisions in specific circumstances. A prominent example is professional ethics, the principles governing behavior in fields such as law, engineering and medicine. Thus, the physicians' Hippocratic Oath is an ethical system in which the commitment to act for good of patients is understood as systematically related to a commitment to do no harm to anyone. Because ethical principles are though through systematically, they are generally codified by specialists and provided to us by an external authority.

Nevertheless, most of us possess a "moral compass" that guides us through our lives without our giving very much thought to the relationships among our moral decisions. Because our moral sense is influenced by various influences from diverse sources, the same individual who wishes to suppress the freedom of women, or the culture of national and sexual minorities, may be the first to rush into a burning building to rescue the very people he finds "immoral". In unusual circumstances, such apparent inconsistencies may lead one to question his or her private morality and attempt to resolve these questions through ethical principle.