Ethics and Excuses: The Crisis in Professional Responsibility

By Banks McDowell | Go to book overview

the informal processes of dispute resolution and a method of disseminating those results for the information of others who may face the same problem. I do not wish to attempt that now, but merely to show the desirability of such a process as a way of improving our understanding of excuses and their critical role in developing our understanding of responsibility in the contemporary world. If we were to develop a group of expert mediators to deal with the dialogue around excuses, one of the by-products of their efforts could be to record and share the experiences of discussing excuses with professionals and victims in specific problem contexts.

The ongoing discussion of these matters should prevent us when we are actors from using alibis or unpersuasive excuses, as well as when we are victims from accepting alibis and thereby not blaming the unethical actor. It is also important not to absolve observers who stand idly by while the level of unethical activity in our professions and our lives increases.

Like all dialogues, there have to be two active participants. Either the professional or the victim can initiate the dialogue. The professional should be sure that the excuse is both understood and accepted. The victim should not accept alibis, but insist on real explanations.

It may seem that a social process that goes on daily between all members of the society and that tends to tolerate excuses that undercut responsibility for one's unethical actions cannot be easily reversed or reformed. It is not, however, a process that is fixed, but is constantly being used and adapted to the needs of particular contexts, peoples, and times. That is why the focus on professionals is significant. First, there is the explicit commitment to being ethical, which should certainly encompass not using invalid excuses to avoid responsibility for unethical activity. Second, professionals occupy positions of influence and power in the society. If the legal profession, the medical profession, the teaching profession, and the journalistic profession, among others, would commit themselves to genuine discussions of these issues whenever they are accused of acting unethically, that would start a process of reversing the use of unjustified excuses or alibis. 8 Then, of course, most professionals are also parents and neighbors who, if they brought this style of discussion into all their relationships, not just their professional ones, would have an important and fairly immediate impact on the giving, assessing, and accepting or rejecting excuses.


NOTES
1.
See Banks McDowell, "The Ethical Obligations of Professional Teachers (of Ethics)," PROFESSIONAL ETHICS: A MULTIDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL, Vol. 1, Nos. 3 & 4 ( 1992): 53.
2.
My preference as a teacher was to give students wide latitude in structuring their own learning and defining their own tasks. This made it hard for me to set fixed guidelines and to require performance, the failure of which, would require excuses. See Banks McDowell, "The Dilemma of a (Law) Teacher, 52 BOSTONUNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW 247

-157-

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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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