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From the goo thesaurus, it defines the difference between 道徳 and 倫理 as:

「道徳」は、人間が社会の一員として守るべき行為の基準となるものをいい、「倫理」は、社会的な行動の規範となるものをいう。

While モラル covers both.

Unfortunately, I don't really understand the nuance in this description, since they both sound the same to me.

There is also a comparison chart with

  • Xを守る (○: 道徳, モラル △: 倫理)
  • Xに反する (○: 道徳, 倫理, モラル)
  • 政治X (○: 倫理 △: モラル x: 道徳)
  • Xの低下 (○: モラル △: 道徳 x: 倫理 )

This is even more confusing, since apparently only モラル is correct for Xの低下 despite the fact the previous explanation seemed to just indicate that モラル could be used either way, without some additional meaning.

In addition to explaining these nuances, is モラル any more casual than the others like some English 外来語?

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  • 倫理 is more like ethics. Moral/Ethics degradation may correspond to モラルの/倫理の低下 (I assume ethics degradation is not idiomatic). As noted by naruto, 倫理の低下 does not sound too weird though.
    – sundowner
    Apr 17, 2022 at 1:05
  • Not related to your question but some people use the katakana word モラル for morale too, probably ignorant of the fact that it is a different word.
    – aguijonazo
    Apr 17, 2022 at 7:44

1 Answer 1

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There is a large overlap, but 道徳 mainly refers to basic, personal, day-to-day requirements such as "say thank you out loud", "do not litter", etc. 倫理 is a more elevated word that typically involves big topics such as life/death, war, politics, CO2, philosophy, religious conflicts, doping, etc. There are 道徳 classes at elementary school, whereas there are 倫理 classes taken by some high school students. In other words, 道徳 tends to refer to common sense every person must have and respect as a person, while 倫理 tends to refer to specific ethical standards one must respect as a mature member in each field.

You don't have to think of that chart as a hard rule. For example, 倫理の低下 is used and understood by native speakers. I personally think it's perfectly fine to say 研究倫理を守って研究を行う, 企業倫理の遵守, 倫理が守られていない戦争, etc., although 倫理を守る may sound too vague in isolation. If 倫理の低下 is less common than 道徳の低下, it may be because 倫理 tends to be taken as something shared by people and 道徳 tends to be taken as something naturally owned by individuals.

モラル can cover both 道徳 and モラル. モラル may be more common than 道徳 after you graduate from an elementary school. When compared to モラル, 倫理 is stiffer and preferred in legal contexts, but that does not mean モラル is a casual word in general.

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