Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Common Sense Professional Ethics: A Christian Appraisal

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Common Sense Professional Ethics: A Christian Appraisal

Article excerpt

Christian organizations have joined the secular professions in spelling out detailed ethical codes. Yet what basis can be provided for the supposition that these ethical codes truly inform us about what is objectively right or wrong? Frequently, modern ethicists have argued that we must derive our moral judgments by the application some specific 'ethical theory' to ensure that we are arriving at moral truth. The lack of success in this modern project has contributed to post-modern skepticism about the possibility of arriving at objective moral truth. The modern moral project, and its post-modern skeptics, share a set of mistaken assumptions Plantinga has summarized under the term "internalism." These assumptions are contrasted with the common sense moral realism advocated by the Christian thinker Thomas Reid. It is argued that common sense moral realism provides a practical and rich basis for professional ethics that is informed by a Christian worldview, one that does not leave us with the forced choice of ei ther first justifying our ethical beliefs on some special grounds or doubting the reality of objective moral truth. The implications of this approach for ethical training are briefly considered.

Christian counseling organizations have emulated secular professional organizations by developing specific ethical codes to guide the conduct of their members (AACC, 1998; CAPS, 1993). These codes share many common characteristics with the secular codes promulgated by organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA, 1992) and the American Counseling Association (ACA, 1995). These codes reflect a commitment to many core principles including: non-malfeasance (e.g., "doing no harm"), practicing within one's scope of competence, avoiding exploitation of others, treating people with dignity and respect, protecting client confidentiality, acting only with informed consent, and promoting justice (McMinn & Meek, 1997). The secular codes reflect various types of ethical normativity: including both enforceable "minimal obligations" and the aspirational "ideals" (Tjeltveit, 1997).

A recent Christian Counseling Code of Ethics developed by the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC, 1998) is purportedly both 'aspirational' and 'enforceable.' The AACC Code was developed by the organization's Law and Ethics Committee, which was established in 1993. The code was adopted by AACC in 1999. Although pastoral counseling represents a distinct tradition from the Christian mental health professions, the American Association of Pastoral Counselors has also developed an ethical code which shares many points of commonalities with the AACC, CAPS, and the secular codes (AAPC, 1994). Beck (1997) analyzed the CAPS and AAPC codes in light of 23 ethical descriptors drawn from Williams's "Index of Ethical Code Terminology."

These 23 descriptors apply to all of the six major mental health professional codes including terms such as "competence," "confidentiality," "exploitation," "colleague relationships" and "deception." Beck found that the majority of these descriptors characterized the two reli gious codes as well.

Although there is considerable agreement found between the various Christian and secular codes, is there any reason to think such ethical principles constitute more than just mere convention or opinion? Despite the explicit references to Christian morality in both the CAPS guidelines and the AACC ethics code, neither the secular nor the Christian codes articulate a specific ethical theory that guides their decision-making or application. The existence of a set of ethical principles requires an intervening ethical judgment process in order to be applied to concrete situations. Yet is there any basis for the belief that out moral judgments inform us about what is truly right or wrong in some objective sense?


The modern project of many western philosophers was to identify a way to "justify" such moral judgments (MacIntyre, 1981, Beauchamp, 1991). …

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