Is there a difference between morality and ethics, and if so, what is it? I have seen those terms used interchangeably, but have any philosophers made a distinction between the two?

  • Although the root words mores and ethos have roughly equivalent meanings, some philosophers do like to mark out a relevant distinction by separating their use of such terms. (John Rawls does this even more precisely for duties and obligations, and sometimes "is obligated" ≠ "ought.") Little depends on such usage otherwise, though, about as little as depends on another distinction some writers like to make between normativity and morality/ethics (normativity is sometimes made out to be either a generalization over morality (maybe etiquette also), or an abstraction from such). Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 3:21

1 Answer 1


The definitions I like the most are:

  • Morals are informal rules that help us surviving. Informal means that they are expressed in a simple and non strict language. Example: "be nice".
  • Ethics are the formal expression of morals. That is, using proper language, organized in a system. For example, the same rule, expressed as an ethical rule could be "Kindness improves the quality of our social interactions".
  • Law is the coercitive form of morals. Yes, we agree that not all laws are moral, this is due to the normal difficulty on agreeing something as a group... and administering it. In any case, in a healthy society, law tends to be consistent with morals. Law rules what the group does in case of offence to morals. For example, "the lack of kindness of speaking a Catalan dialect instead of Spanish in a public space is to be punished with..." (real example of an old Spanish fine).

Morals are subjective. That is, some group might live under the moral rule of vengeance. So, the group will just decrease its probabilities of survival. Morals are tested by nature, by natural selection. A human group not consistent with the principles of nature will just be eliminated.

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