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 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

Then, Pruitt and Otter quickly departed, refusing to take media questions on a day of yet more claims about Pruitt's ethics and spending. Cynthia Sewell, idahostatesman, "In Boise, EPA head Scott Pruitt talks pollution program, ducks ethics questions," 5 June 2018 This obviously raises a lot of questions, the least of which is whether or not the E.P.A. chief broke federal ethics rules that prohibit government employees from basically using subordinates as personal assistants. Bess Levin, The Hive, "Why Is Trump’s Most Corrupt Minion Obsessed with Used Mattresses?," 4 June 2018 Some even have publicly accessible codes of ethics and other guiding documents. Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica, "Civil unrest: How a blockchain-based journalism startup bumbled its launch," 23 Dec. 2018 Uruguay's win was an even greater testament to team ethic. SI.com, "Messi vs Ronaldo: The Myth of the One-Man Team & the Overwhelming Importance of Trust," 2 July 2018 The People’s Voice surveyed council candidates, asking a range of questions about county issues including development, education and political ethics. Kate Magill, Columbia Flier, "Field is crowded in race for Howard County Council," 12 June 2018 Broadly speaking, epic fantasy feels most at home in a pre-industrial world, and doesn’t usually concern itself with the affairs of things like corporations or the ethics of capitalism that came with industrialization. Andrew Liptak, The Verge, "Foundryside is a cyberpunk adventure wrapped in an epic fantasy novel," 23 Dec. 2018 Whitaker used his role as president and executive director of FACT in 2016 as a platform to question the ethics of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Chad Day, The Seattle Times, "Right-leaning nonprofit paid Whitaker nearly $1 million," 21 Nov. 2018 After a restaurant in Virginia refused to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders over the weekend, a heated debate has broken out about the ethics of harassing Trump administration officials in public. Benjamin Hart, Daily Intelligencer, "Nancy Pelosi Rebukes Maxine Waters for Endorsing Harassment of Trump Officials," 25 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

16 Mar 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
: 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

Comments on ethic

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