ethic

noun
eth·​ic | \ˈe-thik \

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 construction an 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

My thought was, time out, that’s not at all what ethics officials do. Dave Michaels, WSJ, "Wilbur Ross Sale to Cover Holdings Worth Potentially Tens of Millions," 13 July 2018 Thayer said no taxpayer money was spent on the trips, which were approved in advance by Senate President Robert Stivers and met all legal requirements of the legislature's ethics commission. Tom Loftus, The Courier-Journal, "A GOP group influential in Kentucky is funded by tobacco and casinos," 13 July 2018 Drew Angerer / Getty Images U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt resigned after months of ethics controversies. Recode Staff, Recode, "Recode Daily: EPA chief Scott Pruitt is the seventh cabinet-level person to leave the Trump administration," 6 July 2018 According to Newsweek, ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington put out a one-word statement in reaction to the news of Pruitt's resignation. De Elizabeth, Teen Vogue, "EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Has Resigned," 5 July 2018 To some Democrats in the House and Senate, environmental groups who’ve launched the Boot Pruitt campaign, and former top ethics officials, what should happen now is very clear: Pruitt should resign. Umair Irfan, Vox, "Why Trump would really, really rather not fire Scott Pruitt," 15 June 2018 Both retained lawyers as state and federal prosecutors, and state ethics officials, looked into influence-peddling allegations against the couple. Hillary Borrud, OregonLive.com, "Cylvia Hayes: 5 takeaways from her explanation of her bankruptcy plans," 7 June 2018 On Thursday, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the E.P.A., submitted his resignation after facing 13 federal investigations into his ethics, spending and management practices. Lisa Friedman, New York Times, "E.P.A. Drafts Rule on Coal Plants to Replace Clean Power Plan," 5 July 2018 Held every couple of months, the clinics don’t tackle the debates raging around the ethics of such enforcement, but the program does enable people to work of those fees with community service and counseling. Zoie Matthew, Los Angeles Magazine, "Here’s What’s Being Done to End L.A.’s Homelessness Crisis," 14 June 2018

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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Statistics for ethic

Last Updated

9 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for ethic

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

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More Definitions for ethic

ethic

noun

English Language Learners Definition of ethic

: rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad

ethics : 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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