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Ethics and Morality

The words "morality" (moral) and "ethics" (ethical) are commonly employed as synonyms, even by philosophers. (See, for example, "Introduction to the Objectivist Ethics," by Ayn Rand, which is in fact an essay on morality.) They are, however, different. Morality is personal. Ethics is (are) social.

Morality is a human problem. Animals typically behave ethically by their nature (and most often can do nothing else) but can within limits make choices that seem unethical, but cannot (by definition) be immoral. ...   For examples of animals behaving unethically browse for headlines such as "Dog adopts kittens" and "Cat adopts squirrel." Such actions are outside the normal range of behaviors, but cannot be immoral.

The list of ethical problems in society is endless. We face them every day. Many such challenges can be resolved strictly within the bounds of ethics.

For humans, morality is the science of choice. If an ethical problem is not readily solvable within the ethical domain, you can always increase the level of abstraction and seek a moral principle.
 
The first criminal justice class I had in 2005 was "Ethics for Law Enforcement."  But this all came to me in the final semester of graduate school Winter 2010 when I had "Ethics in Physics" and for my term paper I visited several Code of Ethics webpages from technical and professional societies.  All of the Codes that I found were, indeed, codes of ethics, not codes of moralities.

In that same time, I took a seminar in teaching ethics to students in the counseling program, an MA/MSW range that leads to state certification.  I was amazed to discover that the Code of Ethics for the American Counseling Association runs 18 pages.   The presenter for the seminar said that students come in to the Ethics course thinking that all they have to do is learn the Code.  Then, they are faced with homework and tests that are nothing but ethical dilemmas.  An an Objectivist, I believe that moral dilemmas cannot exist.  Ethical dilemmas do exist. 
 
Ethics as Ethology and Ethnology and Ethnography can say what is done, without saying whether that is "right" or not.  I pointed to the interesting cases of cross-species adoption.  A dog who adopts kittens is acting unethically for a dog. 

In the world of business, high context cultures such as Japan or Greece require social interaction before commerce can be engaged.  In the USA, was well as parts of Nigeria; post-communist Hungary and the former East Germany, among others, that is not necessary: strangers can do business right away. Those are ethical requirements, different for social context.  To act as Americans in business would be moral, but, according to the other social context, unethical. 

You get to the local Cineplex and find a long line.  Can you cut in front?  Why not?  Where is it written in the stars that time preference is the sole standard?  Why not reorder ourselves by how well dressed we are: if you didn't care to get dressed up, it must not be that important for you to get in.  Can you offer someone twenty bucks to let you in front of them?  Behind them?  Offer everyone a dollar, or offer different people different marginal pricing on "place in line options"?  Can you offer to pay more for your ticket to get in sooner?  Any of those might be moral -- in your best interest; non-coercive -- but clearly unethical in our society. ... elsewhere in the world, maybe not so much...

 Ultimately morality governs ethics.  Tossing the virgin into the volcano may be ethical on Bora Bora, but it is still wrong.  The slippery slope fallacy is a slippery slope fallacy because degrees of wrongitude admit the existence of wrongitude: grey would not exist but for black and white.  That said, not every ethical problem is necessarily a moral problem.

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