Difference Between Immoral and Unethical

Immoral vs Unethical

The terms Immoral and Unethical present a conundrum, which literally has made most of us pulling our hair out when trying to understand the difference between the two. Of course, many of us often mistakenly believe them to essentially mean one and the same thing. In fact, the line between Immoral and Unethical is so thin that it is difficult to understand the difference between the two terms. However, a relatively simple explanation of the definitions of both terms will help clear the confusion. Keep in mind, however, that despite the subtle difference, the two terms are used interchangeably in society and often as synonyms.

What does Immoral mean?

To understand the term Immoral, it is first necessary to understand the meaning of ‘Moral’. Morals traditionally refer to accepted principles of right and wrong behaviour in general. Thus, we can understand Immoral to traditionally mean the intentional violation of these accepted principles of right and wrong. Something that is considered Immoral is often considered serious or a blatant violation of accepted conduct or behaviour in society. Murder, for example, is considered an immoral act by both society, as well as individuals. Imagine morals as beacons or indicators of accepted human behaviour and conduct by society in general as well as by each individual based on their personal or spiritual beliefs.

Now imagine Immoral acts as conduct that will flash a bright red light on either one or more of those indicators signalling that the person is not conducting or behaving himself/herself in the right way. Of course, while there are certain standards that are accepted as morals by society collectively, the type of morals often differs from individual to individual. Thus, keep in mind that sometimes what one person considers Immoral might not be considered as such by another. Hence, Immoral signifies the violation of a socially or personally accepted standard of human conduct. Thus, Immoral largely depends on the individual’s personal or spiritual beliefs. Immoral acts are not commonly associated with any particular group, body, profession or role. Instead, it deals with the ultimate conduct of humans in general.

What does Unethical mean?

The term Unethical is traditionally related to certain standards of social or professional conduct or behaviour. Thus, it more commonly arises in a professional or formal setting. Unethical, similar to Immoral, derives from the term ‘ethics, ’ which is traditionally defined as a set of accepted standards of social or professional conduct or behaviour. Unethical thus stems from the violation of such standards. It refers to a situation in which the set standards of a particular group or profession are violated.

A person’s conduct is characterised as unethical when he/she does not act in accordance with the rules of conduct or standards governing a particular role or profession. A popular example of this is the different set of ethics or guidelines governing the medical and legal professions. Both doctors and lawyers are required to conduct themselves in a way that is accepted and right and not stray from adhering to such standards. Thus, a lawyer is bound by ethics to maintain the confidentiality of consultations held with his/her client. Similarly, a doctor is required to keep his/her patient’s medical history confidential.

Difference Between Immoral and Unethical

Not protecting doctor-patient confidentiality is unethical.

What is the difference between Immoral and Unethical?

• Immoral refers to a violation of certain standards that govern human behaviour and conduct.

• Unethical, on the other hand, involves the non-conformity to certain standards that guide a particular role, group or profession.

• Immoral is deeper, in the sense that is based on an individual’s personal and/or spiritual beliefs and what he/she considers to be moral/immoral.

• Unethical, however, traditionally governs the conduct or behaviour of individuals belonging to a particular group or profession.


Images Courtesy: Doctor and Patient via Wikicommons (Public Domain)

  • Beestingza

    I may be wrong, but this is the narrowest definition of ‘unethical’ that I’ve ever read. I don’t think an unethical action necessarily need be confined to a professional or academic milieu. I can see certain acts by parents or friends, in non-business or formal situations that would be clearly labeled unethical.