19 September 2013

Morals vs Ethics

Misunderstandings are far more common than people realise and i'd argue that they are the sole cause of all conflict in the world. Using the right words in the right situations is paramount to avoiding unnecessary conflict. Many people assume that the words "morals" and "ethics" are interchangeable. They aren't, here's why.

Morality is purely about cause and effect. For example if a child hits his friend the moral he will likely learn is that he may be hit in retaliation. If he plays with fire, the moral is that he may get burned.

Ethics however relate to empathy. A child who understands that hitting his friend would be unpleasant for the friend, regardless of any effects it may result in, is displaying empathy. If he uses that empathetic perspective to refrain from hitting his friend, he's acting ethically.

If you cheat in business and are careful about it, you can get ahead. That's a genuine moral that can and is learned on a daily basis. In that situation the moral is unethical. The idea that acting ethically in the short term has long term benefits is a moral that is often taught and that explains why people have come to assume that morals and ethics are one and the same.

I'd argue that empathy should be taught without using personal gain as an incentive. In my opinion, the biggest strides made in the history of civilisation were done so by people who acted ethically knowing that the fruits of their effort would never arrive in their lifetime.