Distinguishing Law & Ethics

Law vs Ethics

It is crucial to understand the difference between law and ethics, as both have a significant impact on our day-to-day life. Law and ethics are two essential terms related to the field of management. Law comprises a set of universal rules that are created, accepted, and usually enforced. In contrast, ethics defines how individuals choose to interact with one another. The term “ethics” comes from the Latin word “ethos,” which means character, and combines with another Latin word, “mores,” meaning customs, to convey the actual meaning.

What is Law?

Law can be defined as a collection of rules and regulations that, if not followed, come with penalties and punishments. It is essential to note that the definition of law contains terms such as consistent, universal, published, accepted, and enforced. A law must be consistent to avoid contradicting requirements, as people cannot obey both. It must be universal because the requirements should apply to everyone, not just one group of people. The requirements must be in written form; hence, a law is published. The requirements must be obeyed; therefore, a law is accepted. Since society members are compelled to obey the requirements, the law becomes enforced.

Disobeying the law results in punishment, which is how the law is enforced. For instance, stealing is prohibited. So, if someone steals something from someone else, that thief is punishable by law. The punishment varies depending on what was stolen.

What are Ethics?

In contrast, ethics are a collection of social guidelines based on moral principles and values. Ethics demonstrate what should be done. Unlike laws, ethics cannot be compelled and therefore cannot be enforced. They do not need to be universal, as ethics are created by society. What one society accepts as good behavior may not hold the same value in another society. That does not mean they consider it wrong. For example, Hindus and Buddhists worship their elders as a way of showing respect. This is done in those societies but may not be practiced in others. Therefore, ethics are not universal. Moreover, ethics do not need to be published. Ethics relies on the individual and their choice of interaction with other society members.

Shaking hands is an example of an ethical behavior. Ethics involves learning what is right and wrong and doing the right thing. Ethical decisions have various consequences, outcomes, alternatives, and personal implications. Unlike laws, when someone does not adhere to ethical principles, they are not liable for punishment. For example, shaking hands is a valued ethical behavior in the business world. If someone does not shake hands with another business associate, they will not be punished with a fine or jail sentence. Such penalties cannot be applied to violations of ethical behavior. Instead, the other party may be hurt, which can harm future social interactions between the two.

Key Takeaways

  • Law is a collection of rules and regulations, while ethics are a collection of social guidelines based on moral principles and values.
  • Law is a set of universal rules, but ethics do not need to be universal.
  • Disobeying the law results in penalties and punishments, but not adhering to ethical principles does not lead to punishment.

Both law and ethics are applicable to all aspects of life and all professions.

Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard is an accomplished writer with expertise in creating engaging articles and content across various platforms. His dedication to research and crafting high-quality content has led to over 5 years of professional writing and editing experience. In his personal life, Gil enjoys connecting with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. His curiosity and eagerness to learn from others fuel his passion for communication. He believes that engaging with strangers can be both enlightening and enjoyable, making it easier to strike up conversations and expand one's horizons.


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