Professional Ethics <was: Phillip Johnson at Northshore Church>

From: Tom Pearson (
Date: Tue Apr 24 2001 - 13:21:40 EDT

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    At 09:27 PM 04/23/2001 -0700, David F Siemens wrote:

    >The matter of lawyers brings back memories. In the college where I
    >taught, there were classes in real estate ethics taught by a lawyer.
    >Every time the class listings came out, one of the members of the
    >philosophy team would object that only philosophers were competent to
    >teach ethics. Each time we had to assure him that what went on in that
    >class had nothing to do with ethics and the principles of right and
    >wrong. Rather, it was a presentation of what the realtors had to do to
    >keep their license and to avoid being sent to jail.
    >The ethics of the legal profession are similar. They have nothing to do
    >with right and wrong, moral and immoral actions. It's purely a matter of
    >keeping a license (although behavior has to be egregiously violative of
    >all standards in many states to even rate a reprimand, let alone being
    >relieved of the license to practice), and of getting a fee.

    Just one quick comment.

    As one who teaches professional ethics to law students (and engineers, and
    law enforcement agents), I have watched during the last several years as
    "professional ethics" has been reduced to "compliance." The underlying
    assumption, as Dave has aptly pointed out, is that adherence to statutory
    regulation is the only norm that needs to be observed by the professional.
    Those statutory regulations are frequently imposed on the profession from
    the outside, either by the government or by the institution (or
    corporation, or agency) that houses the specific professional community.
    Thus, an "ethical violation" means nothing more than a violation of a
    standard which has been produced external to the professional community of
    practice, and enforced upon it. Any sense of professional virtue, or the
    inherent integrity of the professional practice, or recognition of the
    goods internal to the practice, tends to disappear under this system.
    That's why I favor emphasizing internal regulation (especially the model of
    ethical mentoring) of each professional community (as opposed to external
    regulation), where the practice-specific virtues and norms can be
    articulated from within the profession, and an encouragement of individuals
    to acquire the ethical goods that are central to the practice of the
    profession can be nurtured (this, I hasten to add, is a goal, and not
    always the current reality).

    Who is better positioned to embody and express ethical discipline for, say,
    young scientists -- other scientists who understand the nature and
    requirements of the profession, or an external regulator who seeks only to
    impose "compliance"?

    Tom Pearson

    Thomas D. Pearson
    Department of History & Philosophy
    The University of Texas-Pan American
    Edinburg, Texas

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