I am looking for a word that describes a person to whom doing right by others is a primary value. I'm looking to avoid words that are associated with religiosity, like pious or the like. I want to convey a secular morality.

closed as off-topic by choster, Michael Rybkin, JJJ, Neeku, TrevorD Apr 21 at 22:36

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    I use decent. It does not imply some nasty religious code as its root. Lots of atheists and agnostics are decent people. – Wayfaring Stranger Apr 19 at 19:20
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    'Honest'. 'Right-minded'. 'Upright'. . . the list goes on . . . – Nigel J Apr 20 at 2:15

Upstanding works:

A person with a reputation for honesty and strong morals can be called upstanding. The word is often paired with citizen, especially when someone's talking about a public or well-known figure: "Everyone knows the high school principal is an upstanding citizen." Its root is Old English, and the earliest meaning was literally "standing up." It wasn't until the 1860's that upstanding gained the meaning of "honest and respectable."


  • This is perfect! – Meaghan Apr 19 at 23:52

I like the above answers, but have always felt that the word ethical encompasses a broader range -- it can relate to business ethics in a legal sense, and political ethics in a similar way, but personal and relationship ethics in a softer but no less stringent way.

A character who has a strong sense of personal ethics will treat his fellow humans with decency and respect, whether they are employees, workmates, friends or lovers.


Are you looking for "righteous"?

  • "characterized by, proceeding from, or in accordance with accepted standards of morality, justice, or uprightness; virtuous. If you think that someone behaves or lives in a way that is morally good, you can say that they are righteous." From Collins
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    I like righteousness, but it still comes with a very religious connotation. – Meaghan Apr 19 at 16:19
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    Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness. – Philip Wood Apr 19 at 16:28

'Principled' fits quite well, but not exactly, because the principles acted upon may not equate to doing right by others! Some, though, would consider this objection to be pedantic: 'principled' generally implies having the sort of principles that benefit – or at least don't harm – others.


To specifically be concerned about "doing right by others" (even if it is to your own detriment) is to be selfless:

[Oxford Dictionaries]
Concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one's own; unselfish.
‘an act of selfless devotion’
‘Kieran was a selfless man who gave of his time generously to everyone.’
‘In the film he is someone with a generous heart and an open mind, sensitive, selfless and even noble.’

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