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Values, morals and ethics


Explanations > Values > Values, morals and ethics

Values | Morals | Ethics | So what?


What are the differences between values, morals and ethics? They all provide behavioral rules, after all. It may seem like splitting hairs, but the differences can be important when persuading others. 


Values are the rules by which we make decisions about right and wrong, should and shouldn't, good and bad. They also tell us which are more or less important, which is useful when we have to trade off meeting one value over another. defines values as:


n : beliefs of a person or social group in which they have an emotional investment (either for or against something); "he has very conservatives values"


Morals have a greater social element to values and tend to have a very broad acceptance. Morals are far more about good and bad than other values. We thus judge others more strongly on morals than values. A person can be described as immoral, yet there is no word for them not following values. defines morals as:

n : motivation based on ideas of right and wrong


You can have professional ethics, but you seldom hear about professional morals. Ethics tend to be codified into a formal system or set of rules which are explicitly adopted by a group of people. Thus you have medical ethics. Ethics are thus internally defined and adopted, whilst morals tend to be externally imposed on other people.

If you accuse someone of being unethical, it is equivalent of calling them unprofessional and may well be taken as a significant insult and perceived more personally than if you called them immoral (which of course they may also not like). defines ethics as:

A theory or a system of moral values: “An ethic of service is at war with a craving for gain"

The rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession.

Ethics of principled conviction asserts that intent is the most important factor. If you have good principles, then you will act ethically.

Ethics of responsibility challenges this, saying that you must understand the consequences of your decisions and actions and answer to these, not just your high-minded principles. The medical maxim 'do no harm', for example, is based in the outcome-oriented ethics of responsibility.

So what?

Understand the differences between the values, morals and ethics of the other person. If there is conflict between these, then they probably have it hidden from themselves and you may carefully use these as a lever.

Beware of transgressing the other person's morals, as this is particularly how they will judge you.

Talking about professional ethics puts you on a high moral platform and encourages the other person to either join you or look up to you.

See also


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