Often, people use the terms values, morals (or morality) and ethics interchangeably. While these terms are related, they each have slightly different meanings. Every individual has a set of core beliefs about what is important and how life should be conducted. These core beliefs are commonly referred to as “values.” Values are the internal rules that guide our behavior and help us to make decisions about right and wrong, should and shouldn’t, good and bad. They also assign comparative importance to situations, results, and relationships. Values are largely individual, but we tend to also share values with people we associate with. Within groups and societies, there are many common values that are evident in how relationships are structured. There are generally no formal sanctions or punishments associated with a failure to have certain values.
Morals are focused on the ways in which we treat one another. Morals have a strong basis in the judgment of whether a behavior or an individual is good or bad. We judge others more on the basis or morals than on the basis of values. Our laws are created within the context of morality. We label someone who does not follow our moral or legal code as immoral, and this term carries more negative judgment than our description for someone who does not follow specific values. Violations of moral standards can result in sanctions including fines, loss of employment and legal actions if the moral standard has been put into law.
Ethics are the standards of behavior that we expect as a result of our morality. Ethics tend to be described in a formal system or set of rules which are explicitly adopted by a group of people in a particular profession or organization. Ethical behavior is described both in terms of prohibited actions (peer support specialists will not engage in sexual or romantic relationships with their clients) and in terms of mandatory actions (peer support specialists must adhere to all applicable laws and regulations). Here is an operational definition of ethics:
Ethics… the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.
Sanctions for violations of ethical standards can range from fines, disciplinary action, loss of professional credentials and, in some cases, legal action when the ethical standard is related to a particular behavior that has been classified as a criminal act.
Module 7 Activity: Values, Morals or Ethics?
Instructions: Click the box below to complete the Module 7 Activity: Values, Morals, or Ethics?