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

Still, the brand could not escape controversy and was plagued with ethics questions regarding its relationship to the White House and labor violations among its numerous subcontractors. Chavie Lieber, Vox, "A breakdown of this year’s brand winners and losers.," 27 Dec. 2018 Experimental ethics Some psychologists at Stanford wondered if the perception of genetic risk could actually increase people’s risk, independent of their actual genetic risk. Diana Gitig, Ars Technica, "Genetic information as self-fulfilling prophecy," 17 Dec. 2018 Companies including Microsoft, Facebook and Axon, a maker of police body cameras, have formed AI ethics boards and Google published a set of more-general AI principles in June. Dina Bass, The Seattle Times, "Privacy groups urge tech firms to sign Safe Face Pledge to restrict use of facial recognition," 12 Dec. 2018 Nuclear arsenals were built up practically overnight (and cities destroyed) before the bomb’s ethics could be fully explored. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "The Military Wants to Create Synthetic Life Forms to Track Enemies," 4 Dec. 2018 Before taking trips, political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services must fill out a questionnaire to be reviewed by ethics officers. Robert Pear, New York Times, "Ex-Health Secretary Tom Price Wasted $341,000 on Improper Travel, Inquiry Finds," 13 July 2018 Her career of public service spans nearly two decades and includes serving as ethics officer for the city of Atlanta, city attorney for the city of East Point and presiding judge for the Juvenile Court of Fulton County. Pamela Miller, ajc, "Atlanta has new city attorney, deputy chief operating officer," 12 July 2018 Civil has also created something similar called the Civil Constitution, which, in many ways, reads like a conventional journalistic code of ethics. Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica, "Civil unrest: How a blockchain-based journalism startup bumbled its launch," 23 Dec. 2018 The Newseum also encourages participation: interactive exhibits ask visitors to prepare front-page newspaper stories, simulate a TV newscast, and devise their own solutions to media-ethics questions. Amy Mckeever, Condé Nast Traveler, "10 Best Museums in D.C. You'll Want to Visit," 10 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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Statistics for ethic

Last Updated

19 Jan 2019

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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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