Ethics and Excuses: The Crisis in Professional Responsibility

By Banks McDowell | Go to book overview

realm, "I did nothing unethical because I did nothing illegal." The position that a professional can in the moral realm be nothing more than a free market performer abandons all that being professional means. However, it would, at the practical as well as the theoretical level, solve many of the real internal human conflicts that professionals are exposed to. If our dominant goal were to relieve (excess) guilt from professionals, this would be the most effective path to take. Scholars and teachers of professional ethics would then be free to devote their energies to the important question of what are or should be the ethical limitations, if any, on market performers in the contemporary economic system.

The other horn of the dilemma is to insist that the concept of professional is now, as always, an extremely important one for the society and the economy. That means that professionals whom we entrust with our important affairs must be trustworthy, committed to high levels of performance well above mere competence, and devoted to the interests of their clients above their own interests. If that is the horn we select, we cannot accept the two excuses that my competition is acting unethically, therefore I must be permitted to do so, and the only ethical injunction I must respond to is not to be caught in illegal activities.

Every professional and aspiring professional faces this choice on a regular basis, whether they are aware of it or not. And whether the status of professional and the practice of true professional ethics continue depends not on a theoretical answer, but on the practices of individual professionals in their daily activities.


NOTES

This chapter owes much to the inspiration of Hans Mohr, who in a casual conversation made the assertion that "professional ethics are inefficient." He was being critical of contemporary attitudes and that started me thinking about the problems in this chapter.

1.
This is not a new phenomenon because modern intellectual thought has always been captivated by economic analysis, although the obsessive quality is much more marked in recent decades. See Stephen Toulmin, COSMOPOLIS ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990, 1992), p. 125:

As for the "human sciences": many English people are suspicious of them to this day. Anthropology was fortunate: it began as an offshoot of Colonial administration. Sociology was under a cloud in England until at least 1960. Only economics flourished, beginning in Adam Smith's Scotland as an aspect of moral philosophy, and achieving mathematical exactitude in Cambridge without losing its philosophical roots. Alfred Marshall was a philosopher at first, John Maynard Keynes was a student of G. E. Moore, while Anglo-American economic theory stayed firmly on the "reason" side of Cartesianism. Economics did not explore the causal tangle of motives or feelings behind real human choices, exploring instead the rational choices of "ideal" producers or consumers, investors, or policymakers. For the purpose of economics, "causal" factors were set aside, in favor of

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Ethics and Excuses: The Crisis in Professional Responsibility
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • 1 - Introduction: The Ethical Crisis? 1
  • Notes 10
  • 2 - Responsibility and Excuses 13
  • Notes 23
  • 3 - Ethical Excuses 27
  • Notes 44
  • 4 - Law and Ethics: The Different Systems 47
  • Notes 61
  • 5 - Defenses: The Legal Excuses 63
  • Conclusion 79
  • 6 - The Fallibility of Human Beings 85
  • Notes 96
  • 7 - The Informal Moral Codes 97
  • 8 - The Need to Reformulate Ethical Expectations 111
  • Notes 130
  • 9 - The Professional and the Market--Is Efficiency the Predominant Value? 133
  • Notes 144
  • 10 - The Responsibility of Others Toward the Excuse Giver: The Need for Dialogue 147
  • Notes 157
  • 11 - Conclusion 159
  • Bibliography 163
  • Index 167
  • About the Author 171
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