What are the Differences and Relations between “Ethics” and “Psychology”?

In the worlds of Stout,

Ethics enquires how we ought to will not how we actually do will. Psychology on the other hand, deals only with the process of volition as it actually occurs without reference to the lightness or wrongness, or to the ultimate conditions which make lightness and wrongness possible.”

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Thus, psychology and ethics are different, having the following points of disagreement:

1. Difference in the Nature of Ethics and Psychology:


As is clear from the foregoing statement by Stout, Psychology is a factual and positive science while ethics is an axiological and normative one. Psychology examines facts for formulating general laws while ethics describes them hi the light of ethical good. Psychology studies what is, while ethics contents itself with ‘what ought to be’.

In Seth’s words,

“Ethics is the science par excellence of “the ought”

2. Difference in the Scope of Psychology and Ethics:

The scope of psychology is wider than ethics, including, as it does, the study of knowledge, emotion and volition. Ethics restricts itself either to will or the process of volition. And even if it does study knowledge and emotion it is only hi the context of volition or activity. Ethics studies human experience in the form of activity inclined towards some ethical ideal.

3. Difference in View-point:

Both study human behavior but their view-points are different. Psychology studies ethical ideals only in the form of mental facts. Ethics studies psychological facts from the ethical view-point.

Relationship Between Ethics and Psychology:


Consequently ethics cannot be said to be a branch of psychology as some hedonists believes. In spite of the obvious fundamental disparities ethics is based on psychology in some points.

Ethics is the science of the ultimate good. It searches for the ideals of human behavior; it decides the good or bad of our volition.

In the light of the ultimate good, it tells us about the volitions we should practice and the ones we should abstain from.

But before we know this we must know how we do come to have our volitions. This is where psychology comes in. It tells us how we will.


Thus, ethics depends upon psychology for knowing the psychological basis of ethical sense. Before arriving at the ethical ‘ought’ it is necessary to have a psychological study of the nature and structure of volition, and its relation to the motivating causes of activity, desire, reason, intentions, difference between ethical and unethical acts, nature of conscience, relation between intelligence and volition, freedom of will and other activities.

Any doubtful or incomplete knowledge of these would lead to faulty imagination of the perfect good.

Correct ethics can be based only upon correct psychology. In this way, ethics and psychology are intimately related. A complete psychological analysis of the ethical situation is essential for ethical decision.

It is difficult to make ethics practical and to understand the ethical situation without knowledge of psychology.

Thus, ethics and psychology are closely related to each other. Ethics presents man with the ideals; psychology suggests methods for making them practical.


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