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

By default her work reminds us that there is more to being a great artist than technique and ambition: a combination of ethics and aesthetics that enables artists to strive unflinchingly for the most original in themselves. Roberta Smith, New York Times, "What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week," 11 July 2018 Council members also voted to introduce Ordinance 1008, which if approved would update the city’s ethics code to include the new policy. David Anderson, The Aegis, "Havre de Grace council introduces anti-harrassment policy for elected, appointed leaders," 10 July 2018 People questioned the ethics of an AI that pretended to be human, wiretap laws were called into question, and some even questioned if the demo was faked. Ron Amadeo, Ars Technica, "Talking to Google Duplex: Google’s human-like phone AI feels revolutionary," 27 June 2018 No one’s ever going to hold up New York society as a bastion of ethics or good taste. Sam Dangremond, Town & Country, "Can Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump Come Back to New York City?," 20 June 2018 The Company will defend itself vigorously once it is served with the complaint, consistent with its ongoing commitment to conducting its business with the highest standards of ethics, safety and integrity. Avery Thompson, Popular Mechanics, "Drone Company Allegedly Brings Bomb on Plane, Fires Whistleblower Employee," 18 May 2018 All this has amplified academia’s ongoing and intensifying debate about publishing ethics. Joe Karaganis, Washington Post, "Russia is building a new Napster — but for academic research," 13 July 2018 Japan’s corporate world has been hit by embarrassing scandals in recent decades that raise serious questions about company ethics. Yuri Kageyama, The Seattle Times, "Nissan says exhaust tests were altered in latest scandal," 9 July 2018 Pruitt reportedly hired lobbyists in apparent violation of a Trump order regarding ethics and recent lobbying. Glenn Fleishman, Fortune, "How Scott Pruitt Blew It: A List of Scandals That Led to the EPA Chief's Resignation," 5 July 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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Learn More about ethic

Phrases Related to ethic

code of ethics

Statistics for ethic

Last Updated

14 Sep 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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