Although I have studied these terms in my own language, could anyone possibly explain them in such a way that I could differentiate between them better. I have not gotten their basic difference in a vivid way.

  1. Ethics
  2. Morality
  3. Principles
  4. Virtues
  5. Etiquette

2 Answers 2


Ethics and morality are often used by philosophers as synonyms. Some philosophers have suggested that we use the words in slightly different ways, where “ethics” would refer to a system describing right and wrong action in particular contexts like a profession or a role (like “business ethics"); “morality” would describe rightness and wrongness in the more general role of being a human being (like “it's wrong to harm other human beings”). But, there may not be a sharp distinction between these contexts, and the words are often used interchangeably.

Principles are rules. In ethics, they are rules about right and wrong action, like “If a person is innocent, it is wrong to punish him/her (or, you should not punish him/her).”

Virtues are properties of people or other beings who act rightly in a habitual way. A habit of acting rightly is a virtue. A person who acts rightly may or may not be following a moral rule or principle. In fact, it may be possible to have a virtue without believing in any moral principles, or if no principles exist.

Etiquette is a set of rules for how to behave rightly or wrongly that are generally understood to be less serious than moral rules. One way of making the distinction is to say that societies can differ radically in their rules of etiquette without any negative consequences, but not in their rules of morality; on this approach, rules of etiquette are defined as the rules that can vary among societies without any bad moral consequences. So, no society that allows punishing the innocent is a moral society, and such a society may not be a stable society. But one society can make it right to pass people on the right, and another society can make it right to pass people on the left, as a matter of etiquette, and it doesn't matter — all that matters is that there is some standard for how passing should work.

  • explanation for downvote? just curious Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 13:32

Ethics and morality are synonyms. Morality comes from latin mores, which means customs, behaviour, culture, etc... while ethics comes from the Greek ethos, which actually means the same thing as mores. Anyway, some philosophers have used theese terms with different meanings, but just beacause they needed to express two different ideas. For example, Hegel said that ethics is the actualization of morality in social institutions. In Philosophy, ethics or morality is the branch that studies what is right, good, what does it mean to be a good person, etc... and so you see that the original meaning of mores or ethos is closer to another term that you have mentioned, which is etiquette.

The other words you mentioned are also very broad and general concepts. Principles can be intended as the ideas which inspires certain rules, or actual rules. Virtues are positive qualities of a person. So, in order to relate it to morality, we can say that to be a moral person is a virtue, for exaple. But one can also say that being brave or smart is a virtue. Or, to go further, we can ask ourselves which virtue a moral person needs to have. For example, one can say that a humane, altruistic, kind person (a person who have theese virtues) is a moral person.

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