The important excuses one hears, and often uses, in professional practice fall into seven groups. The actual excuses given are more complex, detailed, and varied, depending on the particular actors and the contexts in which they are operating. In order to understand the problems created by such excuses, it is only necessary to analyze the common forms that professionals offer for questionable activity.
When discussing ethical excuses, as contrasted with legal defenses, I am less concerned with what might be called mitigating excuses, those intended not to avoid, but to minimize, responsibility. It is a curious and, from an ethical perspective, important feature of humans that we prefer to be characterized as incompetent, careless, or inattentive rather than as deliberately or consciously evil. The degree of blame seems to be less from careless or incompetent actions than from intentionally unethical activity. Professionals, however, are not likely to give mitigating excuses when engaged in professional activity. Such excuses raise serious questions about their competence. A professional is not supposed to be inattentive or incompetent or careless when dealing with the affairs of his client. Such excuses raise doubts about whether he is entitled to continue to act as a professional.
The consequence of acting unethically is to incur blame or guilt, but blame and guilt are hard to apportion between total and partial. One has either acted unethically or not and is blamed or not. In contrast, the law has a whole range of graduated sanctions that it can impose. If the court cannot be persuaded there is a complete defense, there are questions about how