Morality and Ethics

Many people use Morals and Ethics interchangeably and for good reason; if you look up the definition of morals it will reference ethics in a somewhat circular definition, same goes if you look up ethics. I will make an important distinction. Ethics represents innate knowledge of right/wrong distinctions. Ethics transcends culture, religion, and time.

Morals are culturally and religiously based distinctions of right/wrong. The sphere of morality does overlap the sphere of ethics which makes distinctions between the two difficult. Morality claims knowledge of ethics but it does so through culturally based assertions, namely through religion. It is for this reason, morality has a religious connotation. Both terms denote a knowledge of right and wrong actions but the foundations of that knowledge are divergent.

Jonathan Haidt has come up with a definition of Morality that is quite useful. He used secular means (the scientific method) to arrive at what he considered a sound foundation for Morality (which he denotes as synonymous with Ethics). He has reduced Morality to be comprised of five basic components.

1 Harm/Care

2 Fairness/Reciprocity

3 In-group/loyalty

4 Authority/respect

5 Purity/Sanctity


This foundation of morality stretches across cultures throughout history and even is found in the animal kingdom to some extent. This definition of morality is useful in explaining why the term morality has a religious connotation. It is also useful in helping to distinguishing the term ethics from morality. The first two items (1) Harm/Care and (2) Fairness/Reciprocity are subjects within an ethical sphere. The last three elements (3) In-group/loyalty (4) Authority/Respect and (5) Purity/Sanctity while being fundamental elements of morality are not fundamental elements of ethics.


Tamanna Tasnim ,4th  Year in Physiotherapy

Bangladesh Health Professions Institute, CRP.




One Reply to “Morality and Ethics”

  1. Good day. Very interesting, can see you have a good understanding on the topic. Do you have any clinical experience with regards to struggling with morality and ethics? How would you link the research you did for the future if you are faced with an ethical dilemma? Would love to read more from Jonathan Haidt, please add your reference.


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