moral compass

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English[edit]

Noun[edit]

moral compass (countable and uncountable, plural moral compasses)

  1. (usually countable, idiomatic, ethics) An inner sense which distinguishes what is right from what is wrong, functioning as a guide (like the needle of a compass) for morally appropriate behavior.
    • 1865, I. W. Wiley (ed.), The Ladies' Repository, Methodist Episcopal Church, vol. 25, p. 504:
      To every sane man in all climes and ages the great Creator has given a moral compass to enable him to avoid the wrong and follow the right.
    • 1908, Alice Hegan Rice, Mr. Opp, ch. 7:
      He steered by the guidance of his own peculiar moral compass, regardless of the rough waters through which it led him.
    • 1994 Nov. 20, Vincent Canby, "Arts: Sam Shepard Goes to the Races and Wins," New York Times (retrieved 21 Aug. 2011):
      They hustle and scheme without moral compass, trying to survive by making accommodations that are at best temporary, more often delusional.
    • 2011, "A Conversation with Anne Tyler" in Anne Tyler, Noah's Compass, ISBN 9780345516596, p. 285:
      I think he did absolutely the right thing, because according to his own personal moral compass, interfering with someone else's marriage was a sin.
  2. (usually countable, idiomatic, ethics) A person, belief system, etc. serving as a guide for morally appropriate behavior.
    • 1974 Nov. 11, Paul Gray, "Books" (review of Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone), Time:
      Their catastrophe stemmed from disregarding Christian doctrine: radix malorum est cupiditas (greed is the root of all evil). Without a moral compass, Stone's characters cannot even plead ignorance.
    • 1975 June 18, J. F. Terhorst, "Philip Hart—The Almost-Leader of Supreme Court," St. Petersburg Independent (USA), p. 18A (retrieved 21 Aug. 2011):
      Hart is one of those rare men . . . whose directness and sense of conscience have led others to regard him as the moral compass of the Senate.
    • 1998 Feb. 23, Lon Grahnke, "Reagan's role of a lifetime," Chicago Sun Times, p. 27:
      Reagan's mother was his moral compass.
    • 1998 Dec. 5, "Diary Reveals Complex Life of Southern Jew," Miami Herald, p. 1G:
      He writes that Judaism was her moral compass.
    • 2003 May 10, Maria Elena Baca, "Twins say faith inspires them," Brainerd Dispatch (USA) (retrieved 27 Aug. 2011):
      They say their faith is their moral compass.
  3. (usually uncountable, archaic, idiomatic, ethics) The full range of virtues, vices, or actions which may affect others and which are available as choices (like the directions on the face of a compass) to a person, to a group, or to people in general.
    • 1822, Anna Maria Porter, Roche Blanc: or, The hunters of the Pyrenees, ch. 1:
      [W]hile blowing opposite arguments from every point of the moral compass, the adventurous Baron quietly saw himself left to navigate his own vessel his own way, through this storm of his own raising.
    • 1843, Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, ch. 4:
      Here Mr. Chevy Slyme, whose great abilities seemed one and all to point towards the sneaking quarter of the moral compass, nudged his friend stealthily with his elbow, and whispered in his ear.
    • 1866, David Thomas, Septem in Uno, Homilist Library, p. 345:
      Ideas are our rudders. As the soul glides along the warm and swelling sea of feeling, it can only be turned to new points of the moral compass by them.

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