I have tried with many dictionaries to search for a synonym of the phrase “code of conduct”. I wonder if it has the same meaning as “code of ethics”. Your help is much appreciated.

  • 1
    What have you found in dictionaries? What exactly is it that you are not sure of? It should be quite easy from dictionary definitions to see that ‘conduct’ and ‘ethics’ mean different things; so what is your doubt, exactly? Feb 16, 2014 at 13:16
  • code of conduct is about how things should be done(rules). code of ethics are the principles and morals practiced.
    – user193050
    Aug 25, 2016 at 9:44

3 Answers 3


A code of conduct can be a result of codes of ethics but does not necessarily have to be. For example, a code of conduct can include rules about how a manager should organize business meetings or in what way employees should clothe themselves. These are not necessarily ethical imperatives but may still be codified in a code of conduct.

This gets a little trickier when the codes of conduct are about ethical things. For example, the EU's "Space Code of Conduct" is about how countries should ethically conduct themselves in space operations. However it is distinct from a hypothetical "Space Code of Ethics" in the sense that the Code of Conduct is about what countries should do in space whereas a "Space Code of Ethics" would be more about the underlying why that determines how countries choose to do things in space.

So a code of conduct is about how things should be done whereas a code of ethics is an underlying set of principles that determines why certain actions would be preferred. It can be against your ethical code to kill animals for food because you think animals are conscious beings, but it can also be against a code of conduct to kill animals for food because you are a zookeeper and eating the animals will cost you your job.


It seems to me that a code of conduct may venture into a number of areas that a code of ethics would deem irrelevant. Consider for instance the U.S. Naval Academy Athletic Association Student-Athlete Code of Conduct (reproduced in its entirety below):

As a student-athlete at the United States Naval Academy, I will...

• Review all of the information contained in the Student-Athlete Handbook. Should I have questions, I will ask the compliance officer, my coach, sports administrator or O-Rep for clarification. I will be clear in my understanding of what is expected of me.

• Make a premeditated and continually conscious effort to comply with all rules of the NAAA, NCAA and the Naval Academy.

• Always act responsibly and know I will be held personally accountable for my decisions.

• Not engage in any inappropriate or unethical conduct that is detrimental to my team, the Naval Academy or the Fleet.

• Not partake in activities off the Yard that violate Midshipmen Regulations.

• Not engage in any activity that could lead others to believe I support or am involved with a group that utilizes any residence in the local community that is not authorized under Midshipmen Regulations.

• Abstain from underage drinking if this applies to me, and will not condone the use of alcohol by anyone who is underage. I understand that underage drinking is a major violation of Midshipmen Regulations. I realize that if I engage in irresponsible drinking, regardless of my age, I put myself, and my teammates, in personal and professional jeopardy, and am subject to probably suspension from my team.

• Use discretion and good judgment at all times with respect to the content, either print or pictures, that I post on any social networking site. I realize that using social networking provides permanent information on a public platform that could be detrimental to my personal or professional future.

• Fully understand and adhere to my specific team rules as they pertain to me, and my teammates and fully subscribe to the conduct expected of me as a representative of my team.

• Without fail, check with the training staff prior to my use of any nutritional supplements purchased by me or given to me by anyone for any reason.

• Adhere to the moral and ethical values associated with being a good person, a member of an intercollegiate team, and a midshipman. I will tell the truth, no matter what the consequences.

• Represent the Academy and my team with responsibility, integrity and good sportsmanship. I will commit to proper moral and ethical values at all times.

• Abide by the Student-Athlete Conduct Code at all times.

I understand that being a varsity student-athlete at the United States Naval Academy is a privilege, and as such I will act in accordance with the conditions of this Student-Athlete Conduct Code. Violations of this Code could result in my dismissal from the team and I will be held personally accountable for my decisions and actions under all conditions.

Clearly this code of conduct aims to encompass at least some aspects of a code of ethics—as for example in the promises to "adhere to the moral and ethical values associated with being a good person, a member of an intercollegiate team, and a midshipman," and to "commit to proper moral and ethical values at all times," and even (rather less impressively) to "[n]ot engage in any inappropriate or unethical conduct that is detrimental to my team, the Naval Academy or the Fleet."

But several of the points in this code of conduct seem to be operating on a different frequency from a code of ethics. For example, the commitment "[n]ot [to] partake in activities off the Yard that violate Midshipman Regulations" refers to regulations (at least when I lived in Annapolis, Maryland, where the Naval Academy is located) against such demeritorious activities as drinking alcohol within the city limits of Annapolis, going "over the wall" into town without permission, and not wearing one's uniform while outside the Yard on everyday business. It's difficult to see how drinking alcohol in Arnold, Maryland, or Parole, Maryland, or Severna Park, Maryland, isn't an ethical issue but drinking alcohol in Annapolis is. And it's hard to see how wearing civilian clothes while going for a pizza across the street from the Yard possesses any ethical dimension at all.

Likewise, the stricture against "engag[ing] in any activity that could lead others to believe I support or am involved with a group that utilizes any residence in the local community that is not authorized under Midshipman Regulations" would seem to bar student athletes at the Naval Academy from attending nonprofit fundraisers or Tupperware parties in private Annapolis residences.

Ultimately, a code of conduct attempts to delineate rules of behavior that satisfy an institutional interest in how the students or employees minimize the institution's legal exposure and uphold its reputation. A code of ethics is more squarely concerned with the rightness of an individual's behavior, not merely its conformity to regulations that may or may not have anything to do with ethics.

It's certainly true that some things that call themselves codes of ethics are more nearly codes of conduct. Thus, back in 1908 the American Bar Association adopted a Code of Ethics that attempted to frame the ethical obligations of attorneys from a starting point that viewed the primary ethical goal of members of the profession as being to serve justice and to discourage needless litigation. Over the years, the original 32 canons become encrusted with a number of contradictory amendments, many of them reflecting the reality that the actual interests of the profession were in protecting its own reputation, zealously asserting the interests of clients "within the bounds of the law," and encouraging litigation. At some point the Code of Ethics became a code of ethics in name only.

Eventually, in 1969, the ABA promulgated a new code, which it sensibly renamed the Model Code of Professional Responsibility, and which it subsequently replaced (in 1983) with its Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Both of these sets of guidelines were effectively codes of conduct—a point made very clear in the Model Code of Professional Responsibility by its sequestering its discussions of ethical issues within each provision of the code under the subheading "Ethical Considerations." These portions of the code, which quickly came to be known within the profession as "ECs," were recognized not to have the force or the punitive consequences of the brief Canons themselves and the Disciplinary Rules associated with each one.


Let's say in the course of your working day, you call a major client, "dickhead" to their face.

Since the hurt done to them is minor, this is likely not a breech of any code of ethics.

Since the hurt done to your company's relationship with said client could be major, this likely would be a breech of a code of conduct.

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    Actually, I think calling someone a "dickhead" in such a formal context would probably count as a breach of many/most "ethical codes". A better example might be one UK MP calling another a "liar" in the House of Commons. The fact that your company might suffer material damage/financial loss isn't really relevant to the "code of conduct" classification, or the distinction between the two. Feb 16, 2014 at 14:17
  • @FumbleFingers calling someone a liar in the House is normally considered both bad conduct, and also unethical, because they could bring a suit of libel if you said it outside, so it can be seen as underhand to rest on the protection of parliamentary privilege. Conduct does tend to cover both ethics and reputation of the group you act on behalf of.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 16, 2014 at 14:50
  • I rather doubt any MP could ever win a libel action against another MP who simply called him a liar outside Parliament, but I take your point. To the extent that they can be differentiated though, I'd tend to say a code of ethics is a "higher-level" concept more applicable to nations, international organisations, and entire professions (protecting life, livelihood, etc.). A code of conduct might just be the specific "expected/required behaviour" within a company (mainly just protecting "corporate image", product/service quality, etc.). Feb 16, 2014 at 15:46

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