What Makes an Ethical Issue?
Would you feel worse if someone called you unethical or if someone called you immoral? Most of us react differently to these two words, but we can't quite pin down the reason why. From a purely definitional standpoint, “ethics” comes from the Greek word ethikos which, in turn, comes from ethos, which means character,custom, or manners. “Moral” comes from the Latin word moralis, which comes from moris, which means essentially the same thing as ethos did to the Greeks. However, ethics has come to be recognized as the study of concepts such as ought,should,duty, and so on, while “moral” tends to be attached to activities that are either good or bad and to the rules that we develop to cover those activities. Some prefer to think of morals as being culturally transmitted indicators of right and wrong and of ethics as merely a way to determine what we ought to do.
Let's go back to our original question: Would you feel worse if someone called you unethical or if someone called you immoral? If you're like most respondents, you picked “immoral. ” Why? Because we tend to associate immorality with the Judeo-Christian concept of sin; and, because of the longstanding Puritan heritage within our culture, sin is most often equated with evil. “Unethical, ” on the other hand, has become a more acceptable term in our modern culture because it tends not to carry the connotation of evil doing; rather, it is used most often to connote wrong doing (versus doing right). In a sense, to be called ethical or unethical rather than moral or immoral seems to be a reflection of modern connotation rather than representative of any real differences in meaning. In fact, it wouldn't be improbable