Difference between Ethics and Values

The key difference between Ethics and Values is that while ethics is a branch of philosophy that used to study ideal human behavior and ideal ways of being; Values are the embodiment of what an individual stands for.


Ethics is a branch of philosophy that used to study ideal human behavior and ideal ways of being. What is ethical and unethical is judged by local standards and vary from person to person. Values are the embodiment of what an individual stands for, and it is the basis for the behavior which forms the basis for ethics. There are organisational values-loyalty, duty, selfless service, and integrity-and individual values- commitment, competence, candour, and courage.

Ethics and values in cross-culture and societies

Different individuals or groups of people can have completely opposite views of a moral problem, and both can be right. In various culture and society, moral practices differ. An action is decided right or wrong based on the moral norms of the society in which it is practiced. The same action may be morally right in one society and wrong in another.

There are no standard rules for resolving moral disputes or for reaching agreement on ethical matters among the individuals in the same or different society. There is a difference in moral practices but not the fundamental moral principles underlying these practices in any of the societies. It is also true that some moral beliefs are culturally relative. Certain practices, such as customs regarding dress code, self-presentation and regarding women depend on local custom whereas other practices, such as captivity, torture, or political tyranny, is governed by universal standards and judged wrong in spite of differences that exist among cultures.

There is also a belief that if an action depends on a society’s norms, one must obey the norms of his own and if he diverges from them is an immoral act. Further, members of the same society hold different views on practices. In India, for example, moral opinions differ from people to people on matters ranging from genetic modification of foods, mining to in determining the sex of the child. Ethics and moral values are a probe into right and wrong through investigation of the reasons underlying beliefs. This is better explained by the term “ethical relativism” means different societies have different moral beliefs and that our beliefs are deeply influenced by culture.

Well-sensed and smart people can have totally opposite opinions about moral issues. Issues like abortion, for example are not arguable, because they are not agreed universally. It should also be noted that if each person is decide right and wrong for himself it makes no moral distinction between the actions of different people. There is no clear explanation of how one person determines the moral guidelines of his own or the society, it is arrogant to judge others or the society, which is again unethical and immoral.

Are Ethics and values interchangeable?

The morals of a society and various cultures said to have equal legitimacy, yet for a society to survive the odds, certain practices must be forbidden and others must be mandated. These ethics and values are considered situational and changeable in any relevant situation especially in business conducts. Changes in ethics and one’s moral values should be based on anticipating positive and negative consequences resulting from an action.

Most general values such as honesty, integrity, fairness, and respect are universal. Being not interactive in the society doesn’t mean a person is unethical unless his moral values remain constant. Morals define personal character; ethics is a social system in which morals are applied. Moral values can change but it should encourage improvement in one’s life. The constancy of an individual’s values reflects the roles and ethical behavior in a person’s life time, by providing a foundation that guides behavior and serves as an anchor in times of change.

Changes that occur when a person upgrades his values and learn to be more ethical can increase the level of his life and build a deeper understanding of his own behavior. Ethics are standards or codes of behavior laid by the group to which the individual belongs. This could be national ethics, social ethics, company ethics, professional ethics, or even family ethics. Changes in ethical behavior and moral values can be accepted if we simply add up the overall affected beings, and see the change in their happiness is more than unhappiness, then it is good.

Question for UPSC Mains:
Differentiate between Ethics and Values. Do you think they are interchangeable? Give arguments.