ethic

noun
eth·​ic | \ ˈe-thik How to pronounce ethic (audio) \

Definition of ethic

1 ethics plural in form but singular or plural in construction : the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation
2a : a set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral values the present-day materialistic ethic an old-fashioned work ethic often used in plural but singular or plural in constructionan elaborate ethicsChristian ethics
b ethics plural in form but singular or plural in construction : the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group professional ethics
c : a guiding philosophy
d : a consciousness of moral importance forge a conservation ethic
3 ethics plural : a set of moral issues or aspects (such as rightness) debated the ethics of human cloning

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Ethics vs Morals: Is there a difference?

Ethics and morals are both used in the plural and are often regarded as synonyms, but there is some distinction in how they are used.

Morals often describes one's particular values concerning what is right and what is wrong:

It would go against my morals to help you cheat on the test.

He appears to view himself as a kind of culture warrior, striking out against the crumbling morals of modern society.
Jonathan Goldsbie, Now Toronto, 16 Oct. 2014

While ethics can refer broadly to moral principles, one often sees it applied to questions of correct behavior within a relatively narrow area of activity:

Our class had a debate over the ethics of genetic testing.

Anybody, it seemed, could make the music -- if they couldn't play guitar, they could push a button -- and nobody worried about the ethics of appropriating riffs.
Jennifer Foote, Newsweek, 23 July 1990

In addition, morals usually connotes an element of subjective preference, while ethics tends to suggest aspects of universal fairness and the question of whether or not an action is responsible:

Perhaps you don’t like Kim Kardashian, or her family, or her morals don’t align with yours, or you just think it’s weird that she might have had some plastic surgery, likes to apply makeup in a really complicated way and named her kid “Saint.”
Sarah Boboltz, The Huffington Post, 12 Oct. 2016

The Frenches, both professors in The Media School, focused on the ethics of making medical decisions for a child who could not express her own wishes yet…
Chris Mura, Indiana Daily Student, 18 Oct. 2016

Examples of ethic in a Sentence

Ethics is his chosen field of study.
Recent Examples on the Web The others stem from congressional ethics committee investigations and records requests to banks and institutions that did business with Trump’s companies. Ephrat Livni, Quartz, "Trump’s executive power grab continues in Supreme Court financial records cases," 7 Feb. 2020 The law stipulates that if the hospital's ethics committee agrees with doctors, treatment can be withdrawn after 10 days if a new provider can't be found to take the patient. CBS News, "Mother of Texas baby facing end of life support: "Give her a chance"," 7 Jan. 2020 Under Texas law, a hospital's doctors, with the approval of the facility's ethics committee, can end a patient's lifesaving treatment even if the patient or the family member responsible for making decisions on behalf of the patient objects. NBC News, "Mom of Tinslee Lewis says daughter deserves 'fighting chance at life'," 7 Jan. 2020 The law stipulates that if the hospital's ethics committee agrees with doctors, treatment can be withdrawn after 10 days if a new provider can't be found to take the patient. USA TODAY, "Hospital should not remove Texas baby from life support until final ruling, court says," 4 Jan. 2020 With the doctors and her family still unable to resolve their differences, the ethics committee met Oct. 30 and unanimously decided further treatment was inappropriate. Time, "Texas Judge Says Hospital Can Remove 11-Month-Old From Life Support," 2 Jan. 2020 Research ethics committees and researchers need to ensure that data transfer agreements or material transfer agreements are in place prior to sharing of samples or data. Keymanthri Moodley, Quartz Africa, "Africa’s genetic material is still being misused," 23 Dec. 2019 Pundits and stakeholders can, and have, debated the ethics of who gets waivers and who doesn’t. Sam Blum, Dallas News, "SMU didn’t submit its basketball waivers to the NCAA until Oct. 11 and Nov. 6. This is an inside look at why it happened so late.," 14 Jan. 2020 An attorney found guilty of ethics violations in Wisconsin can face penalties ranging from a reprimand to a suspended law license. Ashley Luthern, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Milwaukee alderman asks state board to review actions of fire and police commissioner accused of conflict of interest," 8 Jan. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ethic.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of ethic

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for ethic

Middle English ethik, from Middle French ethique, from Latin ethice, from Greek ēthikē, from ēthikos

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Time Traveler for ethic

Time Traveler

The first known use of ethic was in the 14th century

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Statistics for ethic

Last Updated

16 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Ethic.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Ethics. Accessed 16 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for ethic

ethic

noun
How to pronounce ethic (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of ethic

: rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad
: an area of study that deals with ideas about what is good and bad behavior : a branch of philosophy dealing with what is morally right or wrong
: a belief that something is very important

More from Merriam-Webster on ethic

Nglish: Translation of ethic for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ethic for Arabic Speakers

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