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

Godard addressed dystopia as a matter of ethics, faith, and love (spiritual and romantic), but the Wachowskis are stuck in juvenile excitement and intellectual confusion. Armond White, National Review, "Is The Matrix the Conservative’s Star Wars?," 30 Aug. 2019 Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society concentrates in part on the challenges of ethics and governance in AI. Alejandro De La Garza, Time, "Meet the Researchers Working to Make Sure Artificial Intelligence Is a Force for Good," 23 Aug. 2019 These actions did not align with the standards of ethics and integrity which USC expects of all its faculty, administrators, and staff. San Diego Union-Tribune, "USC and UC San Diego try to move on after painful fight over Alzheimer’s institute," 18 Aug. 2019 Engineers are expected to follow a code of ethics, which mandates that engineers develop products with user safety and welfare in mind. oregonlive.com, "West Linn grad returns to the Portland metro area for job at Nike," 17 Aug. 2019 The Good Place has become one of TV’s most challenging and delightful comedies, exploring questions of ethics, morality, and lower-circle-of-hell torture techniques over the last three seasons. Dan Snierson, EW.com, "The Good Place creator on how — and why — the show changed its ultimate message," 9 Aug. 2019 Ann Mongoven is the director of health care ethics at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Ann Mongoven, The Mercury News, "Opinion: After two debates, Democratic candidates still unclear on health care reform," 9 Aug. 2019 Both Mr Barroso and Ms Kroes took up their corporate positions following an 18-month embargo on lobbying work prescribed by the code of ethics for commissioners. The Economist, "A consulting firm founded by an outgoing commissioner tests the rules," 8 Aug. 2019 Whatever your personal system of ethics, those facts reveal an epidemic form of wrongness. Megan Garber, The Atlantic, "How Trump Obscures Mass Shootings With Doublespeak," 6 Aug. 2019

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

14 Sep 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

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