Difference Between Ethics and Ethos

Ethics is a branch of philosophy that deals with identifying, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong behaviour.

Ethos is a term that is used to describe principal beliefs or ideals that form the basis of a community, nation, or ideology.

Ethics is covered under UPSC Mains General Studies Paper IV (GS-IV).

Difference Between Ethos and Ethics

Although the two words are linguistically similar, they are used distinctly in today’s world. This article will attempt to highlight the differences between the two within the context of the IAS Exam

The difference between Ethics and Ethos is given in the table below:

Differences between Ethics and Ethos



Ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts such as good and evil, virtue and vice, justice and crime. Ethos is the guiding belief that has the power to influence behaviours, emotions or even morals.
The English word “ethics” is derived from the Ancient Greek word ēthikós, meaning “relating to one’s character”. Ethos forms the root word ēthikós meaning morality and character.
Ethics is universally applicable regardless of geographical constraints. Ethos can vary from culture to culture, region or country.
Ethics can also refer to a common human ability to think about ethical problems relating to philosophy. Ethos is one of the three modes of persuasion (other being logos and pathos).
There are three major areas of study within ethics:

  1. Meta-ethics: Studies the theoretical meaning and reference of moral propositions
  2. Normative ethics: Concerning the practical means of determining a moral course of actions
  3. Applied ethics: Concerning what a person is permitted to do in a specific situation
There are three categories of ethos:

  1. Phronesis: useful skills and Wisdom
  2. Arete: Virtue and Goodwill
  3. Eunoia: Goodwill towards the audience

Ethics and Ethos are broadly covered under the General Studies IV Paper (Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude) of the UPSC Exams. Aspirants can refer to the following links below to study this segment

Difference Between Ethics and Ethos – Download PDF Here

Frequently Asked Questions about Ethics and Ethos


What are the 3 major areas of Ethics?

The field of ethics (or moral philosophy) involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior. Philosophers today usually divide ethical theories into three general subject areas: meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics.

What is the definition of ethos?

Ethos means “custom” or “character” in Greek. As originally used by Aristotle, it referred to a man’s character or personality, especially in its balance between passion and caution. Today ethos is used to refer to the practices or values that distinguish one person, organization, or society from others.

Candidates can find the general pattern of the UPSC Exams by visiting the UPSC Syllabus page.

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