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un- +‎ ethical


unethical (comparative more unethical, superlative most unethical)

  1. Breaching the established standards of conduct or behavior within a particular organization or profession. [20th c.]
    He was sacked for unethical conduct.
    • 2006, Laurinda B. Harman, Ethical Challenges in the Management of Health Information, →ISBN, page 104:
      The following potentially unethical coding practices are presented along with the standard from the AHIMA Standards of Ethical Coding that they may violate.
    • 2009, Nada Kakabadse, Andrew Kakabadse, Chen Yang, “The Chinese Boardroom: Roles, Dynamics and Relationships”, in Global Boards: One Desire, Many Realities, →ISBN, page 100:
      However, occasionally one encounters unethical but not immoral practice, because in China, market regulations are neither sufficient nor regularly updated.
    • 2017, Joseph Byrne, Administration Ethics: Executive Decisions in Canadian Healthcare, →ISBN, page 11:
      For example, individuals accused of unethical conduct might challenge the decision rendered by an ethics review panel if they were displeased with the ethics review process or outcome.
  2. Immoral, morally wrong. [19th c.]
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:immoral
    • 2011 June 2, “The Science And Ethics Of Research On Chimps”, in NPR.org[2], retrieved 12 November 2022:
      The Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, Texas is one of only a handful of sites around the world that conduct medical research on great apes. Scientists say their research is conducted humanely, but many animal rights groups say testing on chimps is unneeded and unethical.

Usage notes[edit]

  • While the two terms are often used interchangeably, unethical is sometimes distinguished from immoral as referring to breaches of specific, collectively agreed social standards, rather than the violation of ultimate and unchanging moral principles implied by immoral.[1] See also the usage note at ethics.


Coordinate terms[edit]



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See also[edit]


  1. ^ Singer, Marcus G. (1986), “Ethics, Science and Moral Philosophy”, in New Directions in Ethics: The Challenge of Applied Ethics[1], London: Routledge:
    Note that there is a familiar distinction between judging conduct immoral and judging it unethical. The judgment of conduct as ethical or unethical appeals to a code that is felt to depend somehow on the will and agreement of human beings, whereas the judgment of conduct as moral or immoral does not appeal to a code or set of principles felt to be changeable in this way.

Further reading[edit]