Responsibility and Excuses
If the problems facing professionals are not ones of learning the expectations of professional ethics, but rather of complying with them, we need to look closely at the excuses offered and, even more important, those that are accepted for alleged lapses from ethical standards. As a preliminary matter before we get to the typical excuses, I want to discuss several central questions. (a) What do we mean by saying that a professional is responsible? (b) What is the function of excuses? (c) How do we describe successful or unsuccessful excuses? (d) Who decides whether an excuse works?
In simple moral analysis, responsibility is the consequence of obligation and the failure to comply, the conclusion of a syllogism in which the major premise is the duty and the minor premise is the breach. In other words, it is an inference or conclusion from the presence of other factors.
Responsibility is the major concern of most evaluative judgments of human action. If we think in causal terms about people, we must identify which actor should be credited for some result we either approve or disapprove of. We then describe that person as the responsible party. Otherwise we would have to label the occurrence as an accident, act of nature, or act of God, which are conclusions egocentric human beings are reluctant to draw. We may need to seriously reexamine the traditional assumption that we ought to identify a responsible individual for most actions. We will consider that question in Chapter 7.