moral compass

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From moral (of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behaviour; conforming to a standard of right behaviour) +‎ compass (device used to determine the cardinal directions), from the fact that a compass indicates various directions on its face (sense 3), and enables its user to find the correct direction to go in (sense 1).



moral compass (plural moral compasses) (ethics)

  1. An inner sense which distinguishes what is right from what is wrong, functioning as a guide for morally appropriate behaviour.
    Synonyms: conscience, moral sense
  2. A belief system, person, etc. serving as a guide for morally appropriate behaviour.
    • 1974 November 11, Paul Gray, “Books: Notable: Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone 342 Pages. Houghton Mifflin. $8.95. [review]”, in Time[2], New York, N.Y.: Time Inc., →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 31 May 2022:
      Their catastrophe stemmed from disregarding Christian doctrine: radix malorum est cupiditas (greed is the root of all evil). Without a moral compass, [Robert] Stone's characters cannot even plead ignorance.
    • 1975 June 18, J[erald] F[ranklin] Terhorst, “Philip Hart—The almost-leader of Supreme Court”, in Robert M. Stiff, editor, Evening Independent, number 195, St. Petersburg, Fla.: Evening Independent, →OCLC, page 18A, columns 5–6:
      [Philip] Hart is one of those rare men whose ego is smaller than his talents; and whose directness and sense of conscience have led others to regard him as the moral compass of the Senate.
    • 1998 December 5, “Diary reveals complex life of southern Jew”, in Miami Herald, number 82, Miami, Fla.: Herald Print. and Pub. Co., →ISSN, →OCLC, page 1G:
      He writes that Judaism was her moral compass.
  3. (archaic) The full range of actions, vices, or virtues, which may affect others and which are available as choices to a person, group, or people in general.
    • 1822, Anna Maria Porter, chapter I, in Roche-Blanche; or, The Hunters of the Pyrenees. [], volume I, London: [] [A[ndrew] & R[obert] Spottiswoode] for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, [], →OCLC, page 19:
      [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.
    • 1842 December – 1844 July, Charles Dickens, “From which It will Appear that if Union be Strength, and Family Affection be Pleasant to Contemplate, the Chuzzlewits were the Strongest and Most Agreeable Family in the World”, in The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, London: Chapman and Hall, [], published 1844, →OCLC, page 36:
      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.
    • 1886, David Thomas, “No. CXLII. Conventional Christianity, the Great Hindrance to the Extension of the Christianity in Christ”, in Septem in Uno: The First Seven Volumes of The Homilist in One, [] (Homilistic Library; VIII; The Pulpit of the Nineteenth Century), London: Andrew Crombie, [], →OCLC, page 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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