Ask Difference

Discretion vs. Discrimination — What's the Difference?

By Urooj Arif & Fiza Rafique — Updated on April 23, 2024
Discretion involves the freedom to make decisions within certain boundaries, while discrimination refers to unjust treatment based on specific characteristics.
Discretion vs. Discrimination — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Discretion and Discrimination


Key Differences

Discretion allows individuals to choose or act according to their judgment in various situations, allowing for flexibility and personal judgment. On the other hand, discrimination involves making distinctions that lead to unfair treatment of individuals based on race, gender, age, or other personal attributes, often violating principles of equality.
Discretion is often seen positively in contexts like law enforcement or professional settings, where it permits tailored responses to unique situations. Whereas, discrimination is viewed negatively as it promotes bias and can lead to societal and personal harm.
In legal terms, discretion refers to the authority granted to officials to make decisions within the framework of existing laws. In contrast, discrimination in the legal context is unlawful and involves actions that prejudice someone’s rights due to their inherent traits.
Ethically, the use of discretion must be guided by moral standards and aimed at achieving fair outcomes. Conversely, discrimination is an ethical violation that undermines justice and equality.
Discretion requires wisdom and often involves considering the nuances of a situation to make judicious decisions. Meanwhile, discrimination often stems from ignorance, prejudice, or societal stereotypes, leading to narrow and unjust decision-making.

Comparison Chart


The ability to decide freely within legal bounds
Unfair treatment based on specific attributes

Context of Use

Legal, professional, personal
Social, legal, employment


Generally positive, requires wisdom
Negatively perceived, involves bias

Legal Implications

Often legally permissible
Usually legally prohibited

Ethical Concerns

Requires ethical judgment
Considered unethical and unjust

Compare with Definitions


The freedom to decide what should be done in a particular situation.
The judge used his discretion to reduce the sentence.


Recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another.
Discrimination between right and wrong is crucial.


Carefulness not to cause embarrassment or attract too much attention.
He handled the delicate issue with great discretion.


The ability to discern what is of high quality; good or refined taste.
He shows great discrimination in his choice of wines.


Optional quality or ability of making a decision.
The manager had the discretion to allocate funds among departments.


Bias or prejudice resulting in denial of opportunity, or unfair treatment regarding selection, promotion, or transfer.
She filed a case for gender discrimination after being overlooked for promotion.


Authority or power to judge or act.
In her position, discretion is an essential skill.


The differential treatment against a particular group.
Age discrimination can affect both the young and old.


The quality of behaving or speaking in such a way to avoid causing offense.
She exercised discretion when she chose not to comment.


The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people.
Laws have been made to prevent discrimination in the workplace.


Discretion has the meaning of acting on one's own authority and judgment. In law, discretion as to legal rulings, such as whether evidence is excluded at a trial, may be exercised by a judge.


Recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another
Discrimination between right and wrong
Young children have difficulties in making fine discriminations


The quality of being discreet; circumspection
"the almost unknown young man who lived in the upper room ... coming and going with discretion" (Doris Lessing).


The selection of a signal having a required characteristic, such as frequency or amplitude, by means of a discriminator.


Freedom to act or judge on one's own
All the decisions were left to our discretion.


The act of discriminating.


(Archaic) The ability or power to discern what is responsible or socially appropriate
"She had even condescended to advise him to marry as soon as he could, provided he chose with discretion" (Jane Austen).


The ability or power to see or make fine distinctions; discernment.


Individual justice from experience in quality of perception: discrete.
The police came and searched us at their discretion because we were shouting at each other's faces.


Treatment or consideration based on class or category, such as race or gender, rather than individual merit; partiality or prejudice.


The quality of being discreet.
Bob showed great discretion despite his knowledge of the affair.


Discernment, the act of discriminating, discerning, distinguishing, noting or perceiving differences between things, with the intent to understand rightly and make correct decisions.


The ability to make wise choices or decisions.


(uncountable) The quality of being discriminating; acute discernment, especially in matters of good taste.


The freedom to make one's own judgements.
I leave that to your discretion.


That which discriminates; a distinguishing mark, a characteristic.


Disjunction; separation.


The act of discriminating, distinguishing, or noting and marking differences.
To make an anxious discrimination between the miracle absolute and providential.


The quality of being discreet; wise conduct and management; cautious discernment, especially as to matters of propriety and self-control; prudence; circumspection; wariness.
The better part of valor is discretion.
The greatest parts without discretion may be fatal to their owner.


The state of being discriminated, distinguished, or set apart.


Well spoken, with good accent and good discretion.


The arbitrary imposition of unequal tariffs for substantially the same service.
A difference in rates, not based upon any corresponding difference in cost, constitutes a case of discrimination.


Freedom to act according to one's own judgment; unrestrained exercise of choice or will.


The quality of being discriminating; faculty of nicely distinguishing; acute discernment; as, to show great discrimination in the choice of means.


Freedom to act or judge on one's own


That which discriminates; mark of distinction.


Knowing how to avoid embarrassment or distress;
The servants showed great tact and discretion


Unfair treatment of a person or group on the basis of prejudice


Refined taste; tact


The cognitive process whereby two or more stimuli are distinguished


The power of making free choices unconstrained by external agencies


The trait of judging wisely and objectively;
A man of discernment

Common Curiosities

What is the main difference between discretion and discrimination?

Discretion is the ability to make decisions freely within a set framework, often seen as a positive attribute, whereas discrimination is unfair treatment based on particular distinctions, typically regarded negatively.

Is discrimination always illegal?

Many forms of discrimination are illegal, especially in the workplace or public services, but laws vary widely by country and context.

What are some examples of discrimination?

Examples include racial, gender, age, and disability discrimination, where individuals are treated unfairly based on these traits.

Can discretion ever lead to discrimination?

Yes, if not exercised judiciously, discretion can lead to decisions that inadvertently or deliberately result in discrimination.

How can discretion be improved?

Discretion can be improved through training, experience, and a clear understanding of ethical and legal standards.

How is discretion used in the workplace?

In the workplace, discretion can refer to the level of judgment that employees are allowed in making decisions related to their job duties.

How do laws affect discretion and discrimination?

Laws define the boundaries within which discretion can be exercised and aim to prevent discrimination in various settings.

What is positive discrimination?

Positive discrimination involves giving preferential treatment to members of a disadvantaged group who suffer from discrimination within a culture.

Are there any benefits to discrimination?

While discrimination is generally harmful, the concept of recognizing differences (not prejudicial treatment) can be beneficial in contexts like consumer preference or critical thinking.

How can discrimination be combated in everyday life?

Education, awareness, promoting inclusivity, and enforcing anti-discrimination laws are effective ways to combat discrimination.

Can discretion be misused?

Yes, if used without proper ethical considerations, discretion can lead to abuses of power or unfair treatment.

Can discretion be a part of personal life?

Yes, individuals often exercise discretion in personal relationships and decisions based on their judgment and values.

What is the impact of discrimination on society?

Discrimination can lead to societal divisions, reduce productivity, and cause psychological and socio-economic harm to affected groups.

How do international views on discretion and discrimination vary?

International views on discretion and discrimination can vary significantly due to cultural, legal, and social differences.

What roles do ethics play in discretion and discrimination?

Ethics guide the use of discretion to ensure decisions are fair and just, while ethical standards seek to eliminate discrimination.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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