Although the words “ethics” and “morality” have come down to us through differing paths, they share the same origin. They are derived from the Greek word “ethos,” which is defined by Merriam-Webster as the "distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution," and it also can mean "custom." Because of their shared roots, morals and ethics have many similarities in the modern world.

Ethics as Moral Studies

In the 1995 edition of The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, professor John Deigh of the University of Texas argued that “ethics” relates to the “philosophical study of morality.” In this way, ethics and morals are intertwined, with one being a way of looking at the other. This viewpoint forms the basis of ethical studies classes and also may be the root of ethics as the umbrella term for a group's morality.

Ethics Collates Morals

The Oxford English Dictionary underlines the idea that ethics relates to “a set of moral principles” in its definition of the word. However, it goes further by separating “ethics” into two forms. The first deals with the collation of morals relating to a group, while the other encompasses an individual's own set of morals and principles. In this way, a person's ethics is a collation of their own moral values.

How We Relate to Ourselves and Others

Many different professions, from doctors to lawyers to psychiatrists, have their own set of ethical standards that inform their members how they are expected to behave. In a similar manner, religious institutions provide a set of morals that act as instructions to members of that religion on how they should act. Thus, while one may see another as “unethical” or “amoral,” this simply relates to actions outside of what that group expects.