Ethics and Professionalism

Ethics and Professionalism

Ethics and Professionalism

Ethics and Professionalism


John Kultgen explores the ways morality and professional ideals are connected. In assessing the moral impact of professionalism in our society, he examines both the structure and organization of occupations and the ideals and ideology associated with professions.

Differing from standard treatments of professional ethics, Ethics and Professionalism recognizes that it is the practices within the professions that determine whether rules and ideals are used as masks for self-interest or for genuinely moral purposes.


In this work I take a hard look at professionalism and its effect on the moral life of our society. I examine particular practices in the professions and the rules that are proposed to govern them (for example, prohibiting professional paternalism and enjoining confidentiality); and I make suggestions about these practices and rules. My aim, however, is not to develop a detailed code of professional ethics. Rather, it is to explore the institutional and ideological context of the practices and rules and the opportunities and obstacles that context presents to moral behavior.

The question of context receives cursory attention in most philosophical discussions of professional ethics. A thorough investigation is necessary to lay a foundation for a fresh look at professionalism, a complex of attitudes and norms whose essentials are pretty well in place, though its details are hotly debated. And a fresh look at professionalism is needed because the professions contain flaws that are widely overlooked.

The conviction that institutional and ideological contexts are critical to norms determines the content, the perspective, and the form of this work. The content has to do with the structure of professions, the role of ethical norms in their institutional life, and the way the structure and norms affect individuals, both those who participate in the professions and those who have to deal with them. I will seek not only to describe the structure and the norms, but to evaluate them and proposed reforms of them.

The ethical perspective of this work is a form of institutional consequentialism or, if that label be pretentious, simply pragmatism. While I shall attempt to make the premises of this perspective clear, I shall not defend them systematically, except to the . . .

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