Amoral vs. immoral

The adjective immoral means contrary to established moral principles. Immoral actions are corrupt, unethical, sinful, or just wrong. Amoral means (1) neither moral nor immoral, or (2) lacking moral sensibility. So while immoral and amoral might share a little common ground, there is a clear distinction: immoral things are bad, and amoral things are either neutral from a moral perspective or simply removed from moral considerations.

A third adjective, unmoral, means unrelated to moral considerations. The line between amoral and unmoral is blurry as well, but unmoral things (usually animals or objects) are even further removed from moral concerns than amoral things, which merely ignore morality. Unmoral often appears where immoral would make more sense.


During the Taliban regime, buzkashi was banned, as were most sports, because it was considered immoral. [Wall Street Journal]

Cocky and arrogant, McConaughey’s character thinks he’s got it all under control until a smarter, richer and truly amoral villain enters the frame. [Ottawa Citizen]

He is currently detained under degrading and inhumane conditions that are illegal and immoral. [Guardian]

Wall Street firms have always proclaimed with pride that they are amoral, merely an intermediary between buyers and sellers. [Sydney Morning Herald]

Bush had to be condemned as an immoral beast who killed women and children to get his bloody hands on Iraqi oil. [Politico]

And there’s little point in a morality tale that turns out to be flatly amoral. [New York Daily News]

6 thoughts on “Amoral vs. immoral”

  1. Obama believed he was above all, an amoral god who would bring the wonders of redistribution and global governance to the arrogant American people.

    But he was also an immoral conniving politician who would use demonstrably false and malicious attacks to gain and maintain the power of the Presidency. Decisions about aborted baby’s born alive are seen as amoral in Obama’s code, but paying “a fair share” highly moral and edifying.

  2. (2) lacking moral sensibility
    Using “sensibility” here doesn’t do enough to distinguish the meaning of “amoral” from that of “immoral” because “sensibility” carries a very positive connotation which is being negated here, the result of which is too close in meaning to that of “immoral”. I suggest “lacking moral discernment or relevance” as an improvement.

  3. I believe this definition to be a little lacking. In my mind, an immoral person does things that they know are wrong, but feels guilt for their actions, because they know that they are unjust. They feel guilt. An amoral person feels no guilt, only discomfort (if their actions are exposed), because to them, there is no such thing as just or unjust. To them, all morality is just superstition.

    I also believe that the immoral person is in a transitory condition. If a person sees a disconnect between their actions and their beliefs they may for a time make excuses. But eventually this wears thin, and they will either change their beliefs to match their actions, or change their actions to match there beliefs.


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