The Need to Reformulate Ethical Expectations
We live in a cynical age. A major cause for such cynicism is the apparent absence of ethical behavior on the part of many people with whom we deal. Most of us feel we can no longer trust others, that they will exploit or cheat us, that they may injure us physically out of anger, hostility, or fear, that they will not be available when we need help, and so on. That is a bleak, but not totally unrealistic, view of the contemporary world. Lying behind it, however, has to be a commitment to a set of ethical values that form the basis for those criticisms. We do feel that other people should be trustworthy and supportive, they should deal fairly with us, and they should not hurt us. The notion of reciprocity requires that if we expect those virtues from others, we must in turn also offer the same to them.
Have professionals become less honest, less trustworthy, more materialistic than their predecessors? This is both an empirical and a theoretical question. Our norms of behavior are not only a set of ideals we have, but also the lenses through which we look at and evaluate actual behavior. To what extent should either the actual or the ideal character of professionals be different today than in the simpler world of the nineteenth century?
Excuses may point to a problem--too great a dissonance between actual behavior and our expectations. In much ethical discussion, the assumption is that such dissonance should be eliminated or minimized by changing behavior. In this chapter I want to explore the possibility that our expectations ought to be altered in some ways.
In trying to analyze such disharmonies, there are four important reference points: (1) the actual world of social structure, institutions, and profes