Ethics, also referred to as morality, is a discipline that examines right and wrong. The study of ethics is also referred to as moral philosophy.
Composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb took a look at values and ethical issues in “Class,” a song they wrote for the musical Chicago, which was made into a film in 2002. In this clip from the film, Mama Morton (Queen Latifah) and Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) discuss morality with a touch of irony.
While ethical issues deal with what is morally right and morally wrong, the discipline neither defines nor depends upon what is legal or illegal. While legal statutes may be based upon a basic moral code, it is possible and often likely for actions to be illegal yet still ethically or morally acceptable, and vice versa. Let’s look at a couple examples:
Ethical, but not Legal
In the following video clip from the Showtime television series “Shameless,” we see Debbie and Ian, two young children from a large and extremely poor family sealing food and coupons with the help of their neighbor Veronica.
This is an illegal act. Stealing is against the law. However, this is not an immoral act. Stealing, in this case, is an ethical act in an effort to feed hungry children who have neither the financial means nor the parental support to provide for themselves.
Legal, but not Ethical
Bill and Sally have been married for several years. Sally begins a sexual relationship with Andrew while still married to Bill. She keeps the relationship a secret. Sally is committing adultery. Adultery, defined as sexual relations between a married person and a person outside said marriage, is considered by many to be immoral.
While Sally’s actions are seen as a violation of a moral code, they are not against the law in the United States.