'Ethics' vs 'Values': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on October 15, 2023

‘Ethics’ vs ‘Values’: What’s the difference? Sometimes, learning new vocabulary can help us categorize things in the world around us or label actions as good or bad. But, these labels can sometimes overlap and be confusing — so we’re here to teach you the difference between ‘Ethics’ vs ‘Values’ and what they mean.

In a hurry? Here’s a quick version of what’s to come:

  • ‘Ethics’ is a word that refers to a person’s moral principles
  • ‘Values’ is a word that means the regard someone holds something to

What’s the Difference Between ‘Ethics’ vs ‘Values’?

Both of these words involve giving a certain level of importance to an idea or set of behaviors, but they do so in different ways. ‘Ethics’ has to do with morality and a more universal sense of right and wrong. Meanwhile, ‘Values’ has to do with a person’s beliefs. 

For example:

  • Ethics’ would involve something like murder, which, on a universal level, is morally believed to be wrong.
  • Values’ include things like personal time or sharing goods

In essence, one great way to remember the difference between ‘Ethics’ vs ‘Values’ is their scale.

  • ‘Ethics’ is more universal and affects the whole or a large population
  • ‘Values’ are personal or small-group beliefs 

Note that we have individual ‘Values,’ but oftentimes, companies and religions are good examples of small groups with their own set of ‘Values’ as well. 

It is important to recognize that ‘Ethics’ is regarded as a broader and more abstract phenomenon, with people often posing hypothetical questions about ‘Ethics.’ Interestingly, many people answer those questions according to their personal ‘Values,’ which gives us a sense of how these two words interact.

  • A classic example of this is the Trolley Problem — asking if a train is barreling down the track towards five people, is it better to flip a switch to a track with just one person on it or kill the five people. For some, the answer seems obvious, but things change depending on who the victims in question are. 

All of these examples show us how these terms interact but also how they differ. Now that we have an idea of how they compare, let’s take a closer look at ‘Ethics’ vs ‘Values’ individually. 

Definition of ‘Ethics’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Ethics’ is a noun that means:

  • Moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity
    • “Medical ethics also enter the question.”
  • The moral correctness of specified conduct
    • “Many scientists question the ethics of cruel experiments.”
  • The branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles
    • “Neither metaphysics nor ethics is the home of religion.”
  • (singular ‘Ethic’) a set of moral principles, especially ones relating to or affirming a specified group, field, or form of conduct
    • “The Puritan ethic was being replaced by hedonistic ethic.”

The word ‘Ethics’ comes from the Greek ‘ēthos’ which evolved to ‘ ēthikē tekhnē’ which means “the science of morals.” In modern literature and English studies, ‘ethos’ is the characteristic spirit of the culture or community as depicted through beliefs. 

Synonyms of ‘Ethics’

  • Morality
  • Conduct
  • Belief
  • Conscious
  • Ethos
  • Convention
  • Goodness
  • Integrity
  • Honor

Antonyms of ‘Ethics’

  • Corruption
  • Disgrace
  • Evil
  • Dishonesty
  • Immorality
  • Dishonor
  • Indecency

Phrases with ‘Ethics’

  • Study ethics
  • Question of ethics
  • Ethical practice
  • Ethics dilemma

Definition of ‘Values’: What Does it Mean?

According to Psychologists, ‘Values’ is a term that refers to:

  • Individual beliefs that motivate people to act one way or another and serve to guide human behavior 
    • “People tend to adopt the values they are raised with.”

But, to better understand the full definition of ‘Values,’ we must look at its singular form. According to Oxford Languages, ‘Value’ is a noun that means:

  • The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something
    • “Your support is of great value.”
  • A person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life
    • “They internalize their parents’ rules and values.”

As a verb, the word ‘Value’ can also mean:

  • Estimate the monetary worth of something
    • “The piece was valued at 1 million dollars.”
  • Consider someone or something to be important or beneficial; have a high opinion of 
    • “She valued her privacy and independence.”

The word ‘Value’ comes from the Latin ‘valere’ and the French ‘valoir’, which means “be worth,” so we use this word to refer to something worthy to us. 

Synonyms of ‘Values’

  • Principles
  • Attitude 
  • Code
  • Beliefs
  • Conduct
  • Worth
  • Scruples
  • Importance
  • Benefit
  • Morals

Antonyms of ‘Values’

  • Immorality
  • Lawless
  • Unruly 
  • Disorganization
  • Uncaring

Phrases with ‘Values’

  • Company values
  • Religious values
  • Parental values
  • Personal values
  • Face value
  • Moral values

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Ethics’ vs ‘Values’

Now that you have a sense of what these words mean let’s make sure you feel confident using them in a discussion. This starts with learning proper pronunciation. Follow the guides below to practice saying these new words aloud

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Ethics’ as a guide:

  • ‘Eh-thih-ks’ (both of these vowels are swallowed, mid-vowels meaning the ‘e’ sounds like “eggs” and the ‘i’ sounds like “bin”)

Use this phonetic transcription of ‘Values’ as a guide:

  • ‘Val-yoo-s’ (the ‘a’ is wide as in the word “apple,” and note that the ‘ue’ turns into the ‘yoo’ sound) 

How to Use ‘Ethics’ vs ‘Values’ in a Sentence

The last step to genuinely mastering new words is being able to use them in your own contexts. Use the sample sentences below as a guide to see how the words ‘Ethics’ vs ‘Values’ work in a variety of scenarios. Note that if you want sentences about these words, you’ll need to do further research. 

‘Ethics’ Example Sentences

  • In his college philosophy course, they spent a whole unit discussing ethics and how to approach ethical dilemmas.
  • You have to run a proposed experiment by an institutional board for approval to see if your ethics are not questionable. 
  • Many questioned the ethics of the local hospital after it received many malpractice lawsuits. 
  • The study of ethics can be tedious, given it is largely based on hypothetical situations. 

‘Values’ Example Sentences

  • He was raised Catholic and discovered he had different religious values than his Protestant friends. 
  • My family raised me on the values of kindness, respect, and showing love to others. 
  • Their relationship was short-lived, and they broke up after quickly finding out they had different values
  • She joined the environmental club after discovering their shared values towards preserving nature. 

‘Ethics’ vs ‘Values’ Example Sentences

  • While the ethics of murder is universally agreed to be immoral, some people's values tell them that some lives are worth more than others. 
  • In a class on ethics, we were given a moral dilemma to discuss, and you could see in those conversations where people’s values differed. 

Final Advice on ‘Ethics’ vs ‘Values’

Discussing people’s beliefs can be difficult, but now you have the tools to talk about them in a variety of ways. Remember to keep the difference between big-picture morals and personal beliefs separated and to be open and understanding when discussing people’s opinions. 

Need a recap? Here’s a quick overview of what we covered:

  • ‘Ethics’ refers to the moral principles that govern people, specifically on a universal level
  • ‘Values’ refers to the beliefs that motivate people on a more individual level

Want to learn more vocabulary that allows us to connect and converse with people? Be sure to check out other confusing word articles that show you the difference between big-picture and individualized terms.

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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