What Are Moral Principles? (2023)

Moral principles are guidelines that people live by to make sure they are doing the right thing. These include things like honesty, fairness, and equality. Moral principles can be different for everyone because they depend on how a person was raised and what is important to them in life.

History of Moral Principles

The history of moral principles dates back to Ancient Greece and Ancient China. Moral principles were important in these societies because they believed that to be successful, people needed a clear sense of right and wrong.

Research on moral principles began with Ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle who wanted to figure out the meaning of virtue. Later, moral principles were studied by philosophers like John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant.

In the field of psychology, moral principles have been studied in the context of moral development. Psychologists have been interested to understand how children develop a sense of morality and how moral principles are applied in different contexts. For example, psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg studied moral development in boys from different cultures.

In the contemporary world, moral principles still play an important role. They are considered guidelines for living life successfully. For example, honesty is considered a moral principle because it keeps relationships strong.

What Is Objective Morality?

Types of Moral Principles

There are two types of moral principles: absolute and relative.Absolute principles are unchanging and universal. Relative moral principles change depending on the situation.

Absolute Moral Principles

Absolute moral principles are based on universal truths about the nature of human beings. For example, murder is wrong because it goes against the natural order of things. These are also sometimes called normative moral principles, or those that are generally accepted by society. Below are some examples of absolute moral principles:

  • Don't kill.
  • Speak the truth.
  • Be careful with what you say and do to others.
  • Respect the property of others.
  • Treat people in need or distress as we would want to be treated if our situation were reversed.

Relative Moral Principles

Relative moral principles are based on opinions and circumstances that may change over time or from person to person or for different situations. Relative moral principles depend on a person's beliefs. Relativism to what people perceive as good or bad in relation to themselves. In other words, when someone says something is good, in most cases they are really saying it is good for them, or perhaps it contributes to their well-being. Below are some examples of relative moral principles

  • It is morally wrong to spend money on a luxury item.
  • It is morally right to care for our planet and preserve it for future generations.

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How to Adhere to Moral Principles

Many people strive to live by the moral principles they believe in. But, it can be difficult to follow them all of the time, which is what makes following one's own personal moral values even more valuable.

There are many ways that a person might adhere to their moral principles: through thoughts and feelings, actions, or words. Below are some examples.

  • In thoughts and feelings, a person might strive to be honest by being fair and kind.
  • With actions, a person might live up to their moral principles by not being violent or aggressive.
  • In words, someone might observe their moral principles through politeness.

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Impact of Moral Principles

Moral principles are important for society because they help people learn how to get along and live well with each other. They teach us that all human beings deserve the same rights, which is why it's not okay to discriminate against someone based on their ethnicity or race. People who follow moral principles also tend to have a better quality of life than those who don't.

Moral principles can also impact an individual's identity and sense of self-worth. For example, someone who is honest may feel that they are a good person because they follow the moral principle to be truthful at all times. And for people with strong values about equality, it might make them feel better about themselves when they don't discriminate against people who are different from them.

Tips to Develop Good Moral Principles

There are various ways to develop moral principles that transcend culture, religion, and country. If you are just starting on your moral journey, you might consider exploring morals in various philosophical texts.

However, there are also many practical steps a person can take to develop good moral principles:

  • Think about what you would do when faced with an ethical dilemma and why you would make those decisions.
  • Ask yourself what you think is right or wrong and make sure that your actions are in line with those thoughts.
  • Watch out for double standards, like being nice to one person while not being so kind to another.
  • If it helps, write down a list of moral principles and post them where they're easy to see, like on a mirror or in your workspace.
  • Don't worry if you're not perfectly adhering to your moral principles. The important thing is that you are trying your best.

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Pitfalls of Moral Principles

There are some things that can go wrong when following moral principles. Below are some examples of how moral principles may not always guide you toward the best course of action.

First, it's possible to make judgments about others based on your personal values and not theirs. For example, if you think all women should dress conservatively because you believe dressing another way is immoral, then you are passing judgment on others based on your own set of standards.

In addition, it can be hard to tell the difference between a moral principle and something that's cultural or part of your upbringing. For example, you might believe women should defer to their husbands because in your culture everyone has traditionally agreed with this idea for generations; however, if you were born into a different country where people don't think this way, you might not feel that it's morally right.


Finally, sometimes people can use moral principles to justify bad behavior like stealing or hurting others in some way. For example, if you steal because you believe it will help the poor, then your thoughts could be twisted to say that stealing is OK.

A Word From Verywell

In general, moral principles are beneficial both to society and the individual person. However, blindly following moral principles without considering their origin or using your judgment based on the situation can be problematic. The best course of action is usually to adhere to a loosely defined set of moral principles that align with your beliefs and society as a whole but to also consider each situation individually and weigh the cost of adhering to your morals in terms of its impact on other individuals.

2 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Beauchamp TL. A defense of the common morality. Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 2003 Sep;13(3):259-74. doi: 10.1353/ken.2003.0019. PMID: 14577460.

  2. Chattopadhyay S, De Vries R. Respect for cultural diversity in bioethics is an ethical imperative.Med Health Care Philos. 2013;16(4):639-645. doi:10.1007/s11019-012-9433-5

    (Video) Rimzee - Morals & Principles (Official Audio)

What Are Moral Principles? (1)

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Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."

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(Video) Ethical Principles in Nursing | NCLEX Study Tips | NurseInTheMaking


What are the moral principles? ›

Moral Principles

The five principles, autonomy, justice, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and fidelity are each absolute truths in and of themselves. By exploring the dilemma in regards to these principles one may come to a better understanding of the conflicting issues.

What 3 moral principles are most important to you? ›

Basic Ethical Principles

Three basic principles, among those generally accepted in our cultural tradition, are particularly relevant to the ethics of research involving human subjects: the principles of respect of persons, beneficence and justice.

What is the moral short answer? ›

Morals are the prevailing standards of behavior that enable people to live cooperatively in groups. Moral refers to what societies sanction as right and acceptable.

What are the 7 moral principles? ›

WHAT ARE THE 7 MAIN ETHICAL PRINCIPLES IN NURSING AND WHY THEY ARE IMPORTANT? There are seven primary ethical principles of nursing: accountability, justice, nonmaleficence, autonomy, beneficence, fidelity, and veracity.

What is the most important moral principle? ›

The most famous example of moral principle is the “Golden Rule”, which dates back to the early Confucian times and can be found in most of the world's biggest religions and just about very ethical tradition: Treat others the way you want to be treated.

What are moral principles quizlet? ›

moral principles and values that govern the actions and decision of an individual or group. They serve as guidelines on how to act rightly and justly when faced with moral dilemmas. Tap the card to flip 👆

What is an example of moral principles in life? ›

Moral principles are the foundational beliefs behind moral standards. For example, the principle of equality is the belief that every person has the same rights and that no life is inherently worth more or less than another.

What is the first moral principle? ›

The first principle or foundation of morality is that of care versus harm. This is the natural born belief that as humans we should value and care for others. We should seek the good of others.

What is another word for moral principles? ›

Some common synonyms of moral are ethical, noble, righteous, and virtuous. While all these words mean "conforming to a standard of what is right and good," moral implies conformity to established sanctioned codes or accepted notions of right and wrong. When is ethical a more appropriate choice than moral?

What is moral in your own words? ›

Morals are what you believe to be right and wrong. People can have different morals: you might say, "I like his morals" or "I wonder about his morals." Your morals are your ideas about right and wrong, especially how you should act and treat other people.

What is the best definition of moral? ›

ˈmär- : of or relating to the judgment of right and wrong in human behavior : ethical. : expressing or teaching an idea of right behavior. a moral poem. : agreeing with a standard of right behavior : good.

What is moral values in simple words? ›

Moral values are defined as guidelines that assist a person in deciding between right and wrong. In order to create honest, credible, and fair judgments and relationships in daily life, the awareness of one's morals - along with self-awareness - is crucial.

What are the 5 main principles? ›

The Five Principles are: quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency and freedom.

What are the six basic moral principles? ›

The six ethical principles (autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, justice, fidelity, and veracity) form the substrate on which enduring professional ethical obligations are based.

What are the 8 moral principles? ›

This analysis focuses on whether and how the statements in these eight codes specify core moral norms (Autonomy, Beneficence, Non-Maleficence, and Justice), core behavioral norms (Veracity, Privacy, Confidentiality, and Fidelity), and other norms that are empirically derived from the code statements.

What is the importance of moral principle? ›

Moral values clearly separate what is right from wrong and they are the foundation of character, because they govern the way people think and behave. In general, moral principles are considered universal, because people from all over the world agree with and uphold them.

How many moral principles are there? ›

The Fundamental Principles of Ethics. Beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice constitute the 4 principles of ethics.

Why are the principles important? ›

Your principles are the values that guide your behaviour as a person—and as a brand. For most of us, these principles remain undefined unless we are forced to think about them. They are a result of our upbringing and life experiences, and are therefore invisible to us, like water is to fish.

What are the 3 moral principles? ›


Three basic principles, among those generally accepted in our cultural tradition, are particularly relevant to the ethics of research involving human subjects: the principles of respect of persons, beneficence and justice.

What is the definition of principle quizlet? ›

Principle. a moral rule or set of ideas about what is right and wrong; it influences how you behave.

What are moral principles in nursing? ›

There are four main principles of ethics: autonomy, beneficence, justice, and non-maleficence. Each patient has the right to make their own decisions based on their own beliefs and values.

What are some good examples of principles? ›

Here are 20 examples of guiding principles to help you establish fundamental values for your company:
  • Emphasizing quality. ...
  • Striving for efficiency. ...
  • Encouraging resourcefulness. ...
  • Fostering success. ...
  • Setting industry standards. ...
  • Celebrating diversity. ...
  • Leading supportively. ...
  • Always learning.
Aug 18, 2021

What are principles examples? ›

Examples of principles are, entropy in a number of fields, least action in physics, those in descriptive comprehensive and fundamental law: doctrines or assumptions forming normative rules of conduct, separation of church and state in statecraft, the central dogma of molecular biology, fairness in ethics, etc.

How can you develop moral principles in everyday life? ›

I limit the principles to five so that you can best incorporate them into your daily lives.
  1. Make Things Better. ...
  2. Treat Others Fairly. ...
  3. Consider the Consequences of Your Actions. ...
  4. Respect the Rights of Others. ...
  5. Act with Integrity.
Nov 1, 2016

What are moral principles and reasoning? ›

Principles of Moral Reasoning

If an action is morally permissible, then there exists a moral reason that suffices to explain why the action is morally permissible. If an action is morally obligatory, then there exists a moral reason that suffices to explain why the action is morally obligatory.

What is the full meaning of principles? ›

principle noun (IDEA)

C1 [ C ] a basic idea or rule that explains or controls how something happens or works: the principles of the criminal justice system. The country is run on socialist principles. The machine works according to the principle of electromagnetic conduction.

What is meaning of the principles? ›

: a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption. b(1) : a rule or code of conduct. (2) : habitual devotion to right principles.

What are the 4 types of principles? ›

The 4 basic ethical principles that apply to forensic activities are respect for autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice.

What is moral values and examples? ›

Moral values are principles, not rules. Honesty is an example of a moral value. Moral values and moral norms correspond in a specific manner. Every moral norm is based on a moral value.

What are some moral values? ›

Frequently listed moral values include: acceptance; charity; compassion; cooperation; courage; dependability; due regard to the feelings, rights, traditions and wishes of others; empathy; equality; fairness; fidelity; forgiveness; generosity; giving pleasure; good sportsmanship; gratitude; hard work; humility; ...

What is an example sentence for moral? ›

There was a moral behind it, one that terrified her. Their actions showed moral ambiguity. There was no way to defend her moral objections without seeding doubt in his mind.

What is moral behavior? ›

Definition. To act according to ones moral values and standards. Children demonstrate prosocial and moral behavior when they share, help, co-operate, communicate, sympathize or in otherwise they demonstrate ability to care about others.

What are the 4 moral principles? ›

The Fundamental Principles of Ethics. Beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice constitute the 4 principles of ethics. The first 2 can be traced back to the time of Hippocrates “to help and do no harm,” while the latter 2 evolved later.

What are the 5 core moral values? ›

The universal values our group discovered through this process were: respect, responsibility, fairness, honesty, and compassion (hereinafter “Core Moral Values”).

What are the 10 morals? ›

Here are the ten essential moral values that build character and instil positive behaviour in kids.
  • Respect. ...
  • Honesty. ...
  • Compassion. ...
  • Hard Work. ...
  • Kindness. ...
  • Gratitude. ...
  • Sharing. ...
  • Cooperation.

What are the 6 moral principles? ›

The principles are beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, justice; truth-telling and promise-keeping.

What are the 5 general principles? ›

The five general principles of the American Psychological Association (APA) Code of Conduct state that all psychologists must strive to conduct themselves with beneficence and nonmaleficence, fidelity and responsibility, integrity, justice and respect for people's rights and dignity.


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