What Are Ethics & Values?

by Chris Newton; Updated September 26, 2017

Ethics and values help create order in a society or community of individuals, as well as within oneself. Although there are some similarities between ethics and values, there are also some notable differences. In general, a person's ethics and values help her make decisions and form opinions about various topics and issues.


Ethics address important question about morality, including concepts such as right and wrong, virtue and vice, and good and evil. Ethics cannot be confined by specific religious groups or laws. Ethics are also not based on what is acceptable by any one society. The foundation of ethics is based on standards that dictate what humans ought to do in terms of obligations, rights, fairness and virtues. The obligation to refrain from killing, stealing, rape and other crimes against fellow people is an ethical decision. Ethical standards include compassion, loyalty and honesty.


Values are the ideals, customs or institutions from which we make decisions about right and wrong. They also help weigh out what is important and useful when we need to choose between two options or decisions. Values are the belief of an individual or a social group in which there is emotional investment.


It is important to understand morals when discussing ethics and values, as morals are a similar component to the process of making decisions and forming opinions. Morals encourage decency and derive from personal conscience, suggesting what is right or wrong on an instinctive basis. Morals define personal character and are usually unchanging. There is a greater social element to morals, which are more about basic good versus bad standards than ethics and values.


The differences between ethics and values can seem almost arbitrary, as the difference is subtle. Ethics determine what ought to be and help decide what is consistent with someone's own personal beliefs. Values are the principles and standards in which we judge worth. They lead us to take positions on social issues and guide the way we present ourselves to others. Both are important factors in shaping our opinions and our overall perceptions as individuals.

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About the Author

Chris Newton has worked as a professional writer since 2001. He spent two years writing software specifications then spent three years as a technical writer for Microsoft before turning to copywriting for software and e-commerce companies. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and creative writing from the University of Colorado.

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