Morals, values and beliefs can have a profound effect on the decisions people make on a daily basis. Though it’s clear that all three affect personal philosophy and behavior, the distinction between them isn’t always clear, and because of this, some people use these terms interchangeably. Morals, values and beliefs, however, do represent three different aspects of an individual’s way of life.


Definition of ethics

Morals are more like a code of conduct that has been established and agreed upon by the majority of a society. Morality is like a guide for rational beings, and while moral theories can vary among different societies, morals often play an important role in the formation of ethics. A person may be considered immoral when he or she is old enough to understand and follow this code of conduct and yet rejects it. Though morality is often used to refer to the code of conduct accepted by an entire society, different morals may be accepted and practiced by individual groups within a society.


Values refer to the ideologies that specific individuals and communities feel are the most important. Because the idea of importance is a subjective judgment, values can vary greatly among individuals and groups within a single society. Values often affect the vision of an organization, defining what the organization stands for and shaping the ambition that members of that organization will follow. For example, an organization that above all values altruism and compassion may be particularly focused on charity work.


Beliefs are convictions that are held as true by an individual or group, and these convictions often influence the actions of the person that holds them. An individual’s beliefs may inform his world view and influence the causes and values that the individual will embrace. A belief doesn’t have to be based on a definite fact; it can be based in personal logic or emotion. Because of this, beliefs can be personal and can vary greatly among individuals.


Businessmen debating

Beliefs, values and morals are often are used interchangeably, but a closer study of each of their definitions reveals that these three terms represent three distinct ideas. While all three are clearly linked, they are not completely synonymous. Two people may be a part of the same society and may follow the same set of morals. However, these same two people may be a part of two separate organizations that have opposing values; one organization may value self-reliance while the other may place more value on a sense of communal cooperation. The reason that these two individuals joined their respective groups may have been based on their own set of personal beliefs, but people can share common values and hold different beliefs. Two people can both value education, but one may believe that the best education is found in a traditional setting, while the other may feel that nontraditional educations, such as cyber-charter schools, are more effective.