How does the quote

Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have the right to do and what is right to do.

relate to ethics?

(from Justice Potter Stewart)

  • Hello and welcome to Stack Exchange! I'm not sure what you are asking. If you want to know about the grammar or vocabulary of the sentence then you are probably in the right place. If you want a philosophical answer about Ethics then I suggest you ask here philosophy.stackexchange.com - Please can you explain exactly what the question is? What do you mean by "relate to"? Thanks. Dec 3 '20 at 13:17
  • 3
    The quote is directly about ethics. You could call it a definition. Your question would improve with some basic research. Welcome to ELU, cheers!
    – Conrado
    Dec 3 '20 at 13:20
  • Sorry I should’ve said I’m not so good at English language.
    – mirza hodzic
    Dec 3 '20 at 13:52
  • By relate I mean what does it have to do with ethics
    – mirza hodzic
    Dec 3 '20 at 14:02
  • Here’s an example Morality - “Once a man knows good from evil, nothing on earth can compel him to act against that knowledge”. ~ Socrates This quote explains how a strong moral education is needed to lead a good life. The more knowledge the people have, the more likely they are to think and act in good ways, or moral ways. Conversely, those who do not educate themselves will think and act immorally. Basically, knowing good from bad will lead to better decisions. This quote reminds me of JJ Rousseau, as it reflects his belief that society requires the people to understand and educate thems
    – mirza hodzic
    Dec 3 '20 at 14:03

Understanding the language in the quote is dependent on distinguishing two (of the many) distinct meanings of the word 'right'.

In the first part of the quote

What you have the right to do

The relevant definition is the noun 'right':

2: something to which one has a just claim: such as a: the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled

This is in reference to what a person is allowed to do. One might have the 'right', legally allowed by law, to tell someone that they are ugly.

In the second part of the quote

what is right to do

the relvant definition is the adjective

2: being in accordance with what is just, good, or proper right conduct

This is what is considered part of ethics

ethics : the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation

It might not be right to tell someone they are ugly, even if allowed by law.

The judge is using a pithy pun in English to describe the difference between ethicality and legality: what is right is ethical and what rights you have is what is legal.

He's saying just because you can doesn't mean you should.

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