What is the Difference Between Ethics and Philosophy

The main difference between ethics and philosophy is that ethics are moral guidelines while philosophy is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, as an academic discipline.

Ethics help a person to lead a life in accordance with moral standards, and there are numerous philosophies that concern these ethics. These philosophies are known as moral philosophies. There are varied philosophies in academia. This article examines the difference between ethics and philosophy.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Ethics 
     – Definition, Content, Characteristics
2. What is Philosophy
     – Definition, Content, Characteristics
3. What is the Relationship Between Ethics and Philosophy
     – Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Ethics and Philosophy
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Ethics, Disciplines, Ideology, Philosophy, Theories

Difference Between Ethics and Philosophy - Comparison Summary

What is Ethics

In general, ethics are referred to as moral guidelines a person can follow when doing actions. Hence, they can be used as moral advice or guidelines for the style of living in an individual. Thus, ethics describe what is morally right and morally wrong. Social beliefs and religious teaching act as the foundation for ethics in society.

The etymology of the word ethics is derived from the Greek word ethos meaning custom, character or disposition. In brief, ethics are moral principles that can be followed. Accordingly, Merriam Webster defines ethics as “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation or a theory or system of moral values”.

Difference Between Ethics and Philosophy

Thus, ethics teach the way human beings should behave. Ethics enables us to think in moral terms and work according to moral terms. Similarly, ethics defines what are morally good and acceptable by the majority of society.

What is Philosophy

To provide an exact definition of what philosophy means is challenging. However, in general, philosophy can be described as the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline. Hence, in brief, philosophy is a theory about something.

The etymology of the word philosophy comes from the Greek words ‘philo’ and ‘sophia’, which means the love of wisdom. Thus, philosophy describes a certain way of human thinking and ideology concerning certain subject matter such as religion, art, culture, ethics, human existence, etc. Hence, it is an intellectual assumption on these subject matters.

Main Difference - Ethics vs Philosophy

Figure 2: Greek Philosophers

Accordingly, there are various philosophies such as

Philosophy of Art
Philosophy of Biology
Philosophy of History
Philosophy of Language
Philosophy of Law
Philosophy of Philosophy
Philosophy of Physics
Philosophy of Natural Sciences
Philosophy of Religion
Philosophy of Sociology
Philosophy of Science, Etc.

Moreover, there are basically four main branches of philosophy as logic, epistemology, metaphysics, and axiology. Some of the well-known philosophers are Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Immanuel Kant, Confucius, Karl Marx, and John Locke.

Relationship Between Ethics and Philosophy

  • Philosophies concerned with ethics fall under moral philosophy. Moreover, many philosophical problems come under ethics. Ethics has to explain many philosophical problems.

Difference Between Ethics and Philosophy


Ethics are moral principles a person can follow while philosophy is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, as an academic discipline. Thus, this is the main difference between ethics and philosophy.


Ethics comprise of moral guidelines and advice a human can follow in his lifestyle while philosophy contains theories and ideologies postulated by philosophers concerning a specific subject matter in life. Hence, this is an important difference between ethics and philosophy.


Furthermore, there is no specific origin to be found in ethics. However, ethics has a strong relation to religions and morality in human society. Usually, there are specific founders or several pioneering figures known as philosophers in philosophy. So, this is also a difference between ethics and philosophy.


Their division is another difference between ethics and philosophy. Ethics cannot be separated according to period, country, and subject matter since they are universally considered moral principles concerning any type of human behavior. Philosophy, on the other hand, has varied branches according to period, school, movement, country, subject matter, etc.


Ethics are moral guidelines that a human can follow in order to lead a life that is up to the moral standards while philosophy is a study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline. Therefore, there are philosophies concerning ethics as well. Thus, this is the difference between ethics and philosophy.


1. “Department of Philosophy.” What Is Philosophy? Available here.
2. “Chapter I.” Emporia State University, Available here.
3. “Ethics – Introduction to Ethics: Ethics: a General Introduction.” BBC, Available here.
4. Joseph Margolis, An Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968, p. 8.

Image Courtesy:

1. “2991600” (Public Domain) via Pixabay
2. “Greek philosophers” By J.D. Falk (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

About the Author: Upen

Upen, BA (Honours) in Languages and Linguistics, has academic experiences and knowledge on international relations and politics. Her academic interests are English language, European and Oriental Languages, Internal Affairs and International Politics, and Psychology.

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