Ethics and Excuses: The Crisis in Professional Responsibility

By Banks McDowell | Go to book overview

1
Introduction:
The Ethical Crisis?

There seems to be a growing consensus that our society faces a crisis in professional ethics. While this maybe a subset of a more general crisis in ethical responsibility, my primary interest is in professionals, who are traditionally expected, or at least claim, to display a higher level of ethics than the general population. Much of my analysis in this book may apply, however, not only to professionals and the excuses given when it is claimed they have acted unethically, but to everyone.

There is certainly unease about professional ethics, not only by the professionals themselves, but by the general public, who are the clients or consumers of professional services. In recent decades, more courses about ethics have been introduced into professional schools. Professional associations are worried about the public image of professionals as being unethical. Books about professional ethics are proliferating.

There are serious issues captured in the statement "There is an ethical crisis for professionals." There is, however, confusion about exactly what those problems may be. Five years ago, I prepared a presentation for an ethics conference entitled "The Excuses that Make Professional Ethics Irrelevant." My thesis was that for ethics, the norms are largely matters of voluntary compliance and if an actor can find excuses that justify to himself those of his actions that might be labeled unethical, the ethical requirements lose force. The more I worked with that notion, the more I discovered that excuses serve not only the function of avoiding ethical responsibility, which is the way we usually think about them, but they are also useful in deciding how to apply and adapt ethical norms in specific contexts. In ad-

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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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