The Difference Between Morals and Ethics

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The difference between moral and ethics can seem somewhat arbitrary to many yet, in fact, there exists a delicate difference between these two respective ideas (Kayne, 2015). In this essay, the writer will attempt to present the difference between moral and ethics and evaluate the following ethical perspectives--utilitarianism, Rawls's justice and fairness theory and communitarianism--as it is applied to business.

Morals define personal character, while ethics stress a social system in which those morals are applied. In other words, ethics point to standards or codes of behavior expected by the group to which the individual belongs. This could be national ethics, social ethics, company ethics, professional ethics, or even family ethics. So while a person’s moral code is usually unchanging, the ethics he or she practices can be other-dependent.

When considering the difference between ethics and morals in terms of business, it may be helpful to consider a businessman. Though ethics demand that making profit by engaging in certain legal business operation such as selling fast food is perfectly legal, a businessman’s personal and moral code is likely to find selling sugary drinks to unsuspecting children a crime. On the other hand, a scrupulous food manufacturer might disregard the social cost of his actions and continue to sell unhealthy food to young students with the sole purpose of making profit which is legal in the eyes of the law so long as he knows the loopholes in the legal system.

Ethics can be universal and objective in nature whereas morality is personal and subjective (Wikipedia, 2015). Utilitarianism suggests that our ethical choices, just like any other types of decisions that we make should be based on the corresponding consequences and in doing so the proponents attempt to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Utilitarian also consider both short-and long-term consequences when making ethical decisions.

Utilitarian believe that when making a choice they have to follow a certain process. Firstly, they have to identify all the possible courses of action. For instance, if a food manufacturer is considering to selling a certain food item, he should not only think about the profit but also estimate the direct as well as indirect costs and benefits of his product. Secondly, he should select the alternatives that produce the greatest amount of good based on the cost benefit ratio generated in selling that product. In short, utility or the usefulness should outweigh the negatives.

According to the proponents of utilitarianism, namely, Jeremy Bentham and Jean Stuart Mill, this is an ethical system which is best suited for public policy decisions that can provide a rational basis for making political, administrative and judicial choices (Wikipedia, 2015). However, utilitarianism might find its usefulness in an open market environment as well if the government can make a specified legislation that can benefit all. A good example for this is the monopoly of the Sinopec, the oil giant of the Chinese government. Chinese government keeps a tight grip on this company so that it can keep the oil price under control which guarantees a reasonable cost of living for the poor masses.

Despite its popularity and usefulness, utilitarianism can fall short due to the deficiencies starting with dilemmas in defining “the greatest good”. When a person or a group of people make decisions according to utilitarian principle, they might overlook the long-term risks in favor of immediate rewards. In the case of market monopoly by certain state owned companies, there is always a possibility that a company can destroy fair trade and market competitiveness. Ironically, one of the greatest strengths of utilitarian theory is its concern for collective human welfare, but like a double edged sword, this also serves as one of its greatest weaknesses.

Immanuel Kant argues in his categorical imperatives that moral duties should be obeyed without exception (Rohlf, 2014). This means individuals should do what is morally right no matter what the consequences are. In addition, Kantian system of reasoning often focuses on the belief that there are universal principles that should be followed in every situation, however in reality, ethical dilemmas often require us to make choices between competing obligations where we are forced to determine our priorities.

Utilitarian and Kantian ethical systems fall short in their entirety by failing to recognize the greatest good for greatest number of people and the impracticality of the universal principle in diverse societies. In order to solve these weaknesses, John Rawls, a Harvard philosopher, came up with his idea that what is just for one should be just for all (Wikipedia, 2015); therefore, each individual has an equal right to the same basic liberties that are compatible with similar liberties for all. He is not merely looking for the greatest goods for the greatest number but try to answer the past injustices through the use of concrete programs such as affirmative action in the United States. He also believes that the greatest benefits should go to the least advantaged members of the society. For him, justice primarily means fairness and principles of equality and liberty should protect the rights of all individuals. These liberties include people’s right to vote, freedom of speech and thought, freedom to own personal property, and freedom from arbitrary arrest.

Rawls's believe that there are inequalities in the society; however, his focus is to improve the welfare of the least advantaged member of the society. In his concept of veil of ignorance he recognizes democracies such as Great Britain, U.S and Canada as countries which can apply this theory more effectively. Rawls's suggest people should adopt a hypothetical veil of ignorance which is a moral guideline in order to ensure the best outcomes even in the worst of circumstances.

For Rawls, distributing resources and benefits is a way to protect common good and he believes it to be fair; however, he does not suggest that the society should disregard individual rights. If a person is talented, skilled and fortunate, they are free to follow their goals without any hindrance; however, his or her fruits of labor must shower on the less fortunate neighbors of his. This belief of Rawls's can certainly influence the society to be motivated in a positive manner, and his theory would have acted as a moral compass in making legislative decisions in certain countries, if not for the abstractedness of his theory.

The lack of Rawls's concrete examples and the impossibility of applying his theory due to the fact that his theory only offer broad guidelines and define principles of justice only allowed criticisms from advocates of liberty and equality.

As much as Rawls’s justice and fairness tries to make a society a place where fairness is paramount, communitarians believe that the connection between individuals and community as a collection of interactions in a given place where people share a common interest (Wikipedia, 2015) also believe that a person's individuality is a product of community relationships rather than a product derived only from personal traits. This may mean that an ethical society is a product of community relationships.

What is interesting is that all these systems focus on improving social welfare and the happiness level of the individuals of the societies they envisage; however, the way they propose to achieve the desired outcomes create ideological clashes. When it comes to business, these three systems can act in different ways to improve the social systems in different ways. In a market oriented system such as New Zealand Rawls's justice and fairness can work rather effectively whereas utilitarian principle can work miracles in a planned economy where the government makes majority of decisions on behalf of the people.

Communitarianism on the other hand can thrive in a socialistic system where economy can be highly centralized and people's rights can be given utmost priority. It is indeed hard to find a system that operates on these principles completely; however, there are certain countries such as Cuba and Nepal which are characterized by communitarian ideas.

In conclusion, the three ethical perspectives namely, utilitarianism, Rawls's justice and fairness and communitarianism, can be applied to businesses in given societies and organizations. However, when applying these principles, the organizations and individuals should bear in mind the practicality of these principles in concrete situations.



Kayne, R, “The Differerence between Ethics and Morals”, Conjecture Corporation (2015), Niki Foster (ed.). Retrieved from


Ethics. (2015, March 23). InWikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:31, March 25, 2015, from []


Utilitarianism. (2015, March 24). InWikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:37, March 25, 2015, from []


Rohlf, Michael, "Immanuel Kant", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Retrieved from []

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A Theory of Justice. (2015, March 25). InWikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:39, March 25, 2015, from


Communitarianism. (2015, March 23). InWikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:46, March 25, 2015, from