Virtue Ethics and Professional Roles

Virtue Ethics and Professional Roles

Virtue Ethics and Professional Roles

Virtue Ethics and Professional Roles

Synopsis

Taking medical and legal practice as key examples, the authors develop a rigorous articulation and defence of virtue ethics, contrasting it with other types of character-based ethical theories and showing that it offers a promising new approach to the ethics of professional roles. They provide insights into the central notions of professional detachment, professional integrity, and moral character in professional life, and demonstrate how a virtue-based approach can help us better understand what ethical professional-client relationships would be like.

Excerpt

Professionals, it is said, have no use for simple lists of virtues and vices. The complexities and constraints of professional roles create peculiar moral demands on the individuals who occupy them. Traits that are vices in ordinary life are praised as virtues in the context of professional roles. Should this disturb us, or is it naive to presume that things should be otherwise?

It is natural to turn for guidance on such matters to recent work in virtue ethics. Unfortunately, however, much of this writing suffers from a lack of detail about how the approach is to be applied to practical issues. This book is an attempt to address that problem. In what follows we develop a clear and rigorous account of virtue ethics, which explains how it differs from contemporary versions of rival ethical theories. We show why virtue ethics is to be preferred to those views, and explain how it offers a natural and promising approach to the ethics of professional roles. In doing so, we bring out how a properly developed virtue ethics can offer a promising way to resolve a central issue in professional ethics, in its ability to account for how professional roles can legitimately have their own action-guiding force, without compromising the broader values to which those roles are answerable.

Our general aim is to show how a theoretically advanced virtue ethics offers a plausible and distinctive alternative to utilitarian and Kantian approaches to understanding and evaluating professional roles – in particular, the role morality of medical and legal practice. We argue for the merits of virtue ethics over these other approaches on both theoretical and practical grounds. In the theoretical chapters of the book, we develop the notion of a 'regulative ideal' as a way of explicating the relation between an ethical theory's criterion of rightness and its account of how agents are to be guided by this criterion. We draw on this notion in outlining a rigorous virtue-based account of moral justification, and in comparing and defending this account . . .

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