Making a distinction between morals and ethics is a bit of a brain-twister for me. I have probably always lumped them into a single thing. The reading this week has been helpful to me in distinguishing between the two, and seeing how they work together, kind of like a hand in glove.
Morals can be seen as the values that drive the good behaviors of a society. I have always believed that an expressed value is really of not much worth if it doesn’t lead to measurable behavior. So, for the purposes of this conversation, it can be said that morals are the values that lead to good behaviors in a society. Ethics, on the other hand, are “the methodical thinking of morality, rather than morality itself.”1
Ethics, as a discipline, describes the way we think about being good. But it doesn’t necessarily always lead to good (moral) behavior. Isn’t this the reality of being human? The most prolific apostle Paul himself described an ethical conundrum when he described wanting to do good things but not being able to. And the inverse as well… The things he did NOT want to do, he couldn’t keep from doing them! He was capable of engaging in ethical thought that did not necessarily always translate into moral behavior.
I have to admit being ninths same boat myself oftentimes. I can think all day about the good things that I should do, that I WANT to do. But the behavior that I engage in is, many times, not in line with that thinking. Maybe some intentional attention to Christian ethics could lead to some resolution for this dilemma.
- Patrick Nullens and Ronald T. Michener, The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Paternoster, 2010). 9.