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There would be a temptation at the beginning of this book to dwell on the legitimate question of what a “professional ethic” is, or where it might come from. This book will attempt to range over a number of professions or professional settings to highlight that there is a strong ethical base to the work of any profession, and to demonstrate that the focus for the work of any profession is public interest. In short, professions exist to form or enhance a humane society – a society which respects each person who wishes to improve society by enhancing the common good.

A good deal of attention could also be given to trying to define what exactly a profession is. That may be a difficult or even futile exercise since there are always new and emerging professions. Also, different criteria are often applied to the term, and these are often contested and open to interpretation. Professions are often, but not always, identified as groups of people who are licensed to practise certain dangerous activities which are for the improvement of society and are exercised in the common good. Sometimes a wider definition may be more inclusive and give access to more groups. That licensing process allows them to serve society in certain ways. A profession is more than a “guild,” which was essentially an organisation of workers established for self-protection in the workplace. A profession is an occupation whose core and sole purpose is to put the interests of others ahead of its own while providing its particular services. In a “for profit” organisation this principle may come under pressure.

One possible interpretation is that the ethics of a profession are found in an honourable set of worthy guidelines intended to guide the practices of that profession in the public interest. This suggests professional ethics consist of a set of guidelines which derive from the common good, and from the ways in which a profession serves society. These then become codified almost as a protection for the public against those who, by their actions, can do harm to the public. There is clearly a place for such a code. Sometimes, codes can derive almost directly from particular cases such as that of Dr Harold Shipman in England, who was held responsible for the premature deaths of over 250 patients because of what was considered to be medical malpractice. Generally the triggers for creating such codes are less dramatic, but surprisingly often can derive from cases where there has been public concern about professional practice.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2012

More about this publication?
  • Professional Ethics: Education for a Humane Society
    This book is addressed to all those with an interest in the ethical dimension of professional development. Contributors are drawn from a variety of occupational fields (academic practice, healthcare, occupational therapy, legal, military, business, research, teaching, higher education, and civil engineering), institutional contexts, and geographical regions. However, they are united in their concern for inter-professional ways of working and for developing an ethical response to the changing institutional contexts within which they operate. Practitioners, trainers and managers will find this book both useful and thought-provoking, while scholars with a particular interest in professional ethics will find it informative and insightful.
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