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

Standards for journalistic ethics vary widely from country to country. Casey Newton, The Verge, "The UK’s inquiry into fake news is focused on a long-dead bikini-finding app," 27 Nov. 2018 Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Ivanka’s attorney and ethics counsel, said, as reported in the Post. Emily Bloch, Teen Vogue, "Ivanka Trump Used Her Personal Email Account for Government Business," 20 Nov. 2018 Invented by British philosopher Phillippa Foot in 1967, the Trolley Problem uses hypothetical scenarios within extreme environments to test utilitarian and Aristotlean ethics. David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "Out of Two Million People, Most Prefer That a Self-Driving Car Kill the Elderly," 25 Oct. 2018 Yet the guilty plea seemed to do little to reform the company’s ethics or curb sales, according to a new report in the FT. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, "Mega-rich family behind opioid crisis has second, secret opioid company," 10 Sep. 2018 But most are by Philodemus, an Epicurean employed by Piso in the first century B.C., and cover Epicurus’ views on ethics, poetry and music. Henrik Knudsen, Smithsonian, "Buried by the Ash of Vesuvius, These Scrolls Are Being Read for the First Time in Millennia," 26 June 2018 Body shame, as beauty becomes ethics, becomes shame of the self. Heather Widdows, Time, "Body Hair Is Natural. Society Thinking Otherwise Is Dangerous," 13 June 2018 And yet, as obvious as the decision to recuse was to anybody familiar with either DOJ policy in particular or government ethics in general, its logic was entirely lost on Sessions’s boss. Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, "The Rule of Law Is Crumbling Further Each Day Under Trump," 10 June 2018 Citing judicial ethics, Persky has declined to discuss the case in detail because Turner has appealed. CBS News, "Stanford sex assault case judge recalled by Northern Calif. voters," 6 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

7 Dec 2018

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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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