Difference between Values and Ethics

By: | Updated: Dec-12, 2017
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Values and ethics are arguably two of the most commonly interchanged terms out there. While they are not the same, both are essential to everyday life situations. This article aims to show the differences between these two terms.

Summary Table

Values Ethics
Principles and ideals that aid in determining priorities Guidelines for conduct that determine morality
Considered relative from one person to the next Consistent and uniform
On a personal level On a societal, organizational, and professional level


Values are what a person holds to be true. They are considered to be the guiding principles one follows, and through which he/she sees the world. Values are portrayed as forked paths by which people decide between right and wrong, good and bad, or what is more important or less important in life. Thus, if a person remains true to his/her values and makes choices accordingly, the person lives to express his core values. Moreover, identifying a person’s values allows one to see what that person sees as important. Values can be cultural, personal, and organizational.

Dedication, compassion, honesty, loyalty, responsibility, and integrity are examples of values a person may possess. These are personal standards that one sees as important or valuable.

Ethics used metaphorically as a moral compass

Ethics are the rules or guidelines laid out for a society or an organization instead for an individual. They can also be defined as a set of rules created by a country or a company. Ethics are fundamentally based on moral values, obligations, rights, and virtues. Ethics can be influenced by organizations, professions, or institutes. If seen in a professional context, they refer to professional or work ethics. These are typically codified into a list of acceptable or desired conduct adopted by people involved in that profession (e.g. legal ethics, medical ethics). In society, ethical standards are general guidelines based on moral values. Thus, it is morally ethical to refrain from committing criminal activities such as murder or rape across all cultures.

Values vs Ethics

So, what’s the difference between values and ethics? While both greatly influence a person’s decision-making, each has its own characteristics. Values are essentially the ideals and principles an individual upholds that form the basis of what is of greater importance. Ethics, on the other hand, serve as guidelines that determine the morality of one’s actions. Values act as a motivator as they can strongly affect a person’s emotional state. In contrast, ethics oblige an individual to follow a prescribed course of action.

Values are usually relative from one person to another, that is what one holds as important may not be as important to another. Ethics are usually consistent and almost universal.Values help individuals determine what they really want in life and how to get it. Ethics is more of a moral compass which helps an individual decide what is morally acceptable or not.

There are instances when an individual’s values are in conflict with society’s ethical standards. For example, the use of recreational marijuana is legal in some states but not everyone’s values align with that.


Here’s a video with a scenario that illustrates values and ethics.

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