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The ethics, morals, values distinction

It is impossible to talk of ethics without first considering some complementary and related terms. The three terms: ethics, morals, values are easily confused. For the purposes of this web site, they are defined as follows:

ethics describes a generally accepted set of moral principles
morals describes the goodness or badness or right or wrong of actions
values describes individual or personal standards of what is valuable or important.

Problems may arise where individuals allow their personal values to interfere with their actions, thereby potentially bringing their actions into conflict with stated ethical standards.

For example, a community worker may consider that it is in the best interests of their client to breach the client’s confidence, leading to a breach of a set standard of confidentiality such as prescribed by a code of ethics, a code of conduct or a legal obligation. The reason for the breach may have been value-based and thereby will not satisfy proper and accepted standards for breaching confidence even though the community worker thought it acceptable or even mandatory. This highlights how our individual values can intrude into our professional lives and potentially cause us to ignore ethical obligations and duties. In other words, our values may cause us to ignore a code of ethics. This is an example of the conflict between worker's values and client’s interests.

It may be possible that an organisation can have policies or procedures that conflict with the rights of clients in a general way, the ethical or conduct requirements of their workers or general principles of ethical practice. For example, an organisation that operates from a particular philosophical or political basis such as one that is operated by a church or local government authority may find that its institutional values do not always accord with worker or client interests. This is the conflict between institutional values and client’s interests or institutional values and worker’s interests.