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The words ethical moral and legal are often misunderstood and misused The terms are similar in that each refers to a human behavioral code The terms are similar in that each refers to a human behavioral code Human behavior is complex and thus no one term is sufficient to describe it Ethical moral and legal issues also intertwine to create our entire understanding of behavior as it relates to our sense of right and wrong To further complicate matters each civilization and culture past and present has its own notion of what is ethical moral or legal Therefore one cannot arrive at a simple clear definition of what each term means The meaning often is dependent upon who is defining them Ethics Many people who write about ethics use the term when referring to the most general codes by which humankind lives that is those codes of behavior that for the most part transcend time culture and geography In simple terms ethics is the study of peoples concept of right and wrong Therefore we use the word ethical when we are speaking of that general code of right and wrong recognized by enlightened civilizations from the beginning of time When we ask the question Was that an act or decision ethical we are asking if it meets the test of what is accepted as universally right Writers suggest that we consider such basic concepts as honestly fairness and compassion as universal ethical values Morals The term moral speaks to issues that concern a community of people rather than humankind in general The study of morals also concerns itself with right and wrong but more directly in terms of specific groups of people One may consider morals as specific groups of people One may consider morals as specific rules of right and wrong based on universal ethical truths Thus we use the word moral when we refer to behavior
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