Thursday, 29 January 2015


“Only aim to do your duty, and mankind will give you credit where you fail.” - Thomas Jefferson

Most people confuse two words that are related, but which have a distinct and important difference in meaning:

ethical |ˈeθikəl| adjective

Of or relating to moral principles or the branch of knowledge dealing with these: Ethical issues in nursing | Ethical churchgoing men.
• morally correct: Can a profitable business be ethical?
• [ attrib. ] (of a medicine) legally available only on a doctor's prescription and usually not advertised to the general public.
ethicality |ˌeθəˈkalitē| noun
ethically |-ik(ə)lē|  adverb : [ sentence adverb ] is capitalism ethically justifiable?
ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting ethics or moral philosophy; also used attributively): from Old French éthique, from Latin ethice, from Greek (hē) ēthikē (tekhnē) ‘(the science of) morals,’ based on ēthos (see ethos).

It is related of course to moral:

moral |ˈmôrəl| adjective
Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behaviour and the goodness or badness of human character : The moral dimensions of medical intervention | a moral judgment.
• concerned with or adhering to the code of interpersonal behaviour that is considered right or acceptable in a particular society : An individual's ambitions may get out of step with the general moral code.
• holding or manifesting high principles for proper conduct: He is a caring, efficient, moral man.
• derived from or based on ethical principles or a sense of these: The moral obligation of society to do something about the inner city's problems.
• [ attrib. ] examining the nature of ethics and the foundations of good and bad character and conduct: Moral philosophers.
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Latin moralis, from mos, mor- ‘custom,’ (plural) mores ‘morals.’ As a noun the word was first used to translate Latin Moralia, the title of St. Gregory the Great's moral exposition of the Book of Job, and was subsequently applied to the works of various classical writers.

You can be an ethical person without necessarily being a moral one, since ethical implies conformity with a code of fair and honest behaviour, particularly in business or in a profession (an ethical legislator who didn't believe in cutting deals), while moral refers to generally accepted standards of goodness and rightness in character and conduct—especially sexual conduct (the moral values she'd learned from her mother).

And to illustrate my point, here is a scenario you may like to consider:
“As a nurse, you are the last person to see Mr. Doe before he dies in hospital. You are certain that he has become mentally incompetent in the last few hours and in that time he has rewritten his will. In the new will he viciously attacks each member of his adopted family and reveals that he actually was born a woman. He then cuts every family member out of the will leaving his fortune to a Psychic Chatline . Mr. Doe asks you to make sure that the new will gets to his lawyer. Knowing that the document will most likely be thrown out of court but not before the damage to Mr. Doe's family is done, do you carry out Mr. Doe's last request?”

What is the morally right thing to do in the following cases and what is ethically correct? Is what you would 'actually' do different from what you 'should' do? If so, why?
Tell me about it!

1 comment:

  1. I must admit to being one of the people who confused the two terms. Thanks for the distinction. As to Mr Doe's last will, I would put it in the rubbish bin as he was not of sound mind when he drew it up. And certainly I would not have witnessed it either. That's one less case for the barristers to make money on...