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 Nearly all longtime Placer County residents interviewed described the newly arrived as kind, respectful of local customs and holding a similar shared community ethic of environmental care for this place. Washington Post, 24 Apr. 2021 While the valuation of an object dangles over each conversation, the underlying ethic of every segment is knowledge: what the owner already knows about the object and what the specialist can add or correct. Stephen Lurie, The Atlantic, 26 Aug. 2021 But Martin inverts the basic ethic at work in dark fantasy: that the world’s cruel politics are not the point of the story. Nicholas Pompella, National Review, 7 Aug. 2021 The whole ethic of organ donation is based on the principle that the donors should give of their own free will and get nothing in return. Laurie Kellman, ajc, 28 July 2021 Hamlin said worth ethic is not a problem for Prentice. Ben Thomas | Bthomas@al.com, al, 7 Aug. 2021 The community coming together to advocate for the environment during hard times speaks to how profoundly this conservation ethic is ingrained in the social fabric. Megan Zhang, Condé Nast Traveler, 16 July 2021 What culinary ethic or philosophy does Chef Frederick subscribe to? Jeanine Barone, Forbes, 27 June 2021 Honig’s book raises the question of whether former prosecutors can to continue situating their professional ethic as a guiding star in the absence of Trump and Barr as foils. Washington Post, 9 July 2021

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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Time Traveler for ethic

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

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Dictionary Entries Near ethic

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Last Updated

16 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ethic.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ethic. Accessed 20 Sep. 2021.

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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

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