Saturday, March 05, 2011

Morality vs Ethics- the definitions

I don't mean the same thing when I use the words "morality" and "ethics". I do not consider those words to be interchangeable, but to have discrete meanings, at least when I use them now.

Ethics = objective right and wrong.
Morality = subjective right and wrong; "situational ethics".

More detailed version:
When I think of "morality" I think of what the majority believes is right, here, now, in this situation. Usually it is a religious majority, but not always. Often, today, it is a collectivist statist majority (which, actually, is still a religious system).

This belief can (and usually does) change over time. It can be founded upon actual right and wrong, but only incidentally. It is usually very subjective, even though those who base their opinions upon it claim vehemently otherwise. Murder is objectively wrong and can be considered immoral, but so can silly things like smoking pot or having sex with certain consenting individuals. And murder can also be considered "moral" in some cases, if The State or a religion says it is OK. Morality can be based upon whatever is "legal" or criminalized. In this case, an act may be "moral" one day, and "immoral" the next. This is absurd to the extreme!

(Note: I have been told that what I am calling "morality" is actually "mores". So, to clarify this point, because I'd rather be right than be stubborn, I looked up the word "mores", and I got this definition:
"the essential or characteristic customs and conventions of a community". No, that's not what I am talking about. Customs and characteristics of a community might partly encompass morals and ethics, but seems separate from both.)

Ethics are what I think of as objective right and wrong. Unchangeable regardless of the prevailing culture. Based upon the Zero Archation Principle, and the recognition that such acts are never within your rights-- no matter what pretty names you give them, and no matter which "authority" claims in this instance they are OK. Ethics stay rooted in place.

Added: I just saw the best explanation ever, from "The Wrath of Khan", concerning the difference between the two:

"Ethics stem from the objective and reciprocal claims to self and property ownership. 
Morals stem from the subjective value judgments of self and property worth. 
Ethics exclusively concern rights and violations thereof. Morals concern values and violations thereof. Force can only be used when rights are violated. Social pressure when societal norms are violated."

Another great explanation of the difference between morality and ethics comes from R R Schoettker:

"To me ethics is the distinction between right and wrong behavior and a preference for doing the right in practice while morality is just the collective social approximation of this structured so that at any particular time or place whatever is expedient for the majority is roughly adhered to. As any honest observer can attest a mere social morality can still encompass a significant degree of plainly unethical behavior." 



  1. I seem to like neologisms, such as Mencius' 'levitation' and 'delevitation.'

    So, I think I've worked out the actual basis of ethics, starting by defining 'ought' simply as 'pursuing what you value,' because all else equal, the better world is the one with more of the stuff you like in it.

    It's kind of like the golden rule. It goes beyond what's known as the platinum rule, though, so if named after a metal it would be osmium or something:

    Do not unto others as they would have you not do unto them.

    I prefer this over the ZAP because it defines aggression, rather than simply prohibiting it.

    I think I can also derive the property right from this rule, with the sole addition of the definition of ownership. ("Reasonable expectation of control," or, your wallet will be where you think you left it.)

    If I'm correct, it even produces self-defence as a result. Anyone who does unto another over their objections loses the right to ethical treatment because they obviously don't think respecting the right of others is important, and to you, that person is 'other.'

  2. The only possible problem I see with "Do not unto others as they would have you not do unto them" is that so many people don't want to be "offended". Whether by words, guns being worn in public, who you love, or whatever their particular hot-button happens to be. I would not include any of those things as "doing" anything "to" the person who is offended, but I know from experience that a great many people see it differently.

    Actually, the ZAP speaks of "initiated force"- we simply translate that into the word "aggression" since we are going to have to define what we mean anyway. As I see it, "aggression" is the use of physical force or coercion, or the credible threat thereof, against a person who did not use physical force or coercion against YOU first.

    I like your definitions of ownership.

  3. "by words, guns being worn in public, who you love"

    Well, they absolutely have the right to clamp down on those things - on their property.

    "I know from experience that a great many people see it differently."

    That's nice, but they're just wrong. No property, no rights.

    For example, 'in public' is automatically not on their property. If they can justify being morally offended by that, you can justify being morally offended by their offence, and then they can justify being offended by that offence, and then...

    Which is to say it is sublimely unjustifiable.

    If it's not just a house, but e.g. a bar, then the market will (eventually) punish them for their stupidity. But it isn't unethical - you can simply not go to that bar.

    Unless it isn't stupid, of course. You worried that that hoplophobia isn't stupid?

    "As I see it, "aggression" is the use of physical force or coercion, or the credible threat thereof, against a person who did not use physical force or coercion against YOU first."

    Yes. And 'do not unto others' defines coercion. Similarly, aggression (can be/is) a synonym for coercion.
    And ownership defines 'others.'
    And all this follows from self-evident premises, namely that people have preferences and value is valuable.