Ethics vs Morals

Ethics – describes our systems for balancing issues and making decisions for whatever we consider to be right conduct.
Morals – are codes of what is considered to be right conduct which have been derived from accumulated ethical experience over an expanse of time.

The problem with these definitions is that different people and different cultures can adopt different standards for what right conduct is and also for how to make a decision to reach right conduct.

A branch of ethical study known as utilitarianism defines ethics as “the greatest good for the greatest number” and while this seems fairly simply at first glance, it still leaves us with varying standards for what is considered to be “good” and how to balance good vs bad across the greatest number. But this does give us a working framework for balancing good vs bad to reach an ethical decision.

Scope – The greatest number starts with the single point of ego and personality that we define as self. Then it grows outward to include other “selfs”; family members, friends, , neighbors, acquaintances, and groups that we associate with. But how far do we carry this? Do we include other species of animals? Do we include plants? Do we include our environment? And do we include elements of spirituality? We can define this consideration of the greatest number as “scope”.

Depth – The greatest good starts out with consideration of survival. Life versus death is one of the most basic “good vs bad” issues. Beyond this we look at a variety of factors that effect quality of life. Health is closely linked to the life/death weighing and has a strong impact on quality of life. The ability to defend against threats is also key to both life/death and quality of life. In the socio-economic structure of society today, economic capability and independence is critical. We can also consider pleasure and pain and the pursuit of happiness. Good can also be considered as adherence to moral guidelines and spiritual/religious principles. We can define this consideration of the greatest good as “depth”.

Ethical Framework
Putting these together, we have a framework for weighing how we make decisions to achieve right conduct or “good behavior” according to the perceived impact on variable definitions of both scope (greatest number) and depth (greatest good). Another factor that might be considered is potential.

Moral Codes
These tell us how to act in an ethical manner without considering the circumstances or standards involved. They are usually ethical wisdom distilled over many generations and tested by time and experience. They are usually fairly absolute and inflexible and often tied to either religious beliefs or cultural codes of a specific group.

Ethics vs Morals
There are usually reasonable exceptions to moral codes which can create the apparency of a conflict between ethics and morals. This can particularly become a problem when the moral code is tied to a specific religious dogma or cultural code that may conflict with the religious dogma or cultural code of another group.

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