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

Educators, designers, editors, buyers and influencers need to incorporate their ethics into their work. Jessica Andrews, Teen Vogue, "Rachael Wang On Fair Trade’s First-Ever Lookbook, Activism and Sustainability," 29 Apr. 2019 The trend dates back centuries, and the debate over its ethics has been ongoing. Glamour, "If You Want a Big Style Moment in 2019, Bring On the Feathers," 10 Apr. 2019 At the heart of his ethics is the doctrine of the mean, which argues that virtues and vices are not opposites and that the right way to act falls between two wrong extremes. Julian Baggini, WSJ, "‘Aristotle’s Way’ Review: Philosophize and Flourish," 15 Feb. 2019 And not just due to its questionable ethics or lack of concrete data — but because of critical information that has been left out of the narrative. Julia Belluz, Vox, "7 bad science and health ideas that should die with 2018," 26 Dec. 2018 One of the groups criticized Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke—who this month announced his resignation effective Jan. 2 amid multiple ethics investigations—for again keeping the parks open during a shutdown. Jim Carlton, WSJ, "Government Shutdown Scuppers Holiday Plans, Threatens to Delay Paychecks," 25 Dec. 2018 The latest Cabinet casualty was Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, who resigned this month amid ethics investigations. CBS News, "Government watchdog slams former HHS head for travel," 13 July 2018 An ethics investigation found no evidence the loan existed, other than Harrison’s word. Charles Rabin, Jay Weaver And David Ovalle, miamiherald, "The chief wanted perfect stats, so cops were told to pin crimes on blacks, probe found," 12 July 2018 The sudden resignation of Scott Pruitt from the Environmental Protection Agency, following months of ethics investigations and allegations of misbehavior, has prompted a flurry of speculation about where his successor might lead the agency. Mark Trumbull, The Christian Science Monitor, "From new leadership to Clean Power Plan, subtle shifts ripple through EPA," 11 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

11 May 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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