For many years I had always said that I am not a moral person, pragmatic88 I am an ethical person. But when I would say, “I am not a moral person,” I would wait to see the person’s reaction to my saying that before I added the “however, I am an ethical person.”
Normally the person would wrinkle their brow and get this confused look on their face, and then I would commence to explain my thoughts on the difference between “morals vs. ethics.”
The reason I have chosen not to rule my life based on “morals” is that I think there is an extreme difference between morals and ethics. Before you say, “This is a semantics issue,” let me explain.
I really am not playing “the meaning of words game” here. In my mind I clearly see a big difference between making your decision based on “morals” and making your decisions of life based on your personal ethics. The dictionary has this to offer:
Ethics: choosing principles of conduct as a guiding philosophy.
Morals: conforming to a standard of right behavior.
Here is where I see the difference. Morals, to be sure, are rules and standards that we are told we must “conform” to when deciding what is “right” behavior. In other words, morals are dictated to us by either society or religion.
We are not free to think and choose. You either accept or you don’t! We are taught by society and religion that you “shall not lie” or you should “give to the poor” or you must “love others as you would have others love you” or you must do something because it is “your moral obligation.” The key issue with “morals” is that you are expected to “conform to a standard of right behavior” and not question that “conforming” or you are not a “moral” person. But again, where do these “morals” come from to which we are expected to “conform”? Yep, from society and/or religion, but not from YOU, and that’s what bothers me.
Ethics, on the other hand, are “principles of conduct” that YOU CHOOSE to govern your life as a guiding philosophy that YOU have chosen for your life. Again, call it semantics if you want, but I see a big difference between “conforming” and “choosing.” With MORALS the “thinking has been done;” with ETHICS there’s a freedom to “think and choose” your personal philosophy for guiding the conduct of your life. I like to watch movies about the “mafia” or TV shows like the “Sopranos.” The people on these shows are extremely devoted people to their families and religions, but they have somehow “morally justified” their actions of killing, stealing, and lying.
How is it that these extremely devoted family men and supposedly devoted members of the Catholic religion think that what they are doing is moral is a mystery to me. Yet they wear their “crosses,” cross themselves, love their kids, and dedicate themselves to the “family” while killing people who get in the way. Now that’s an interesting morality. But morals don’t stop there. Think of all the hundreds of cultures who have totally different ideas of morality. Some cultures think it is perfectly fine to have as many wives as they want; some think only one wife is moral in the eyes of God.
Some cultures think that it is fine to steal if you need food; other cultures think that stealing is stealing and is never morally justified. Some cultures think that “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” judgment is fine; other cultures think that this type of moral thinking is barbaric.
When you leave MORAL THINKING to society and religion, there is no such thing as “absolute morality.” So, is there any such thing as a 100% MORAL PERSON? I think not, at least based on the criteria, culture, society, and religion telling us what our morals should be.