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The term ‘profession’ belongs to several areas at the same time, as it contains economic, social, psychological and ethical information about an individual. A ‘professional’ usually possesses a set of characteristics which belong to either of these realms. There are a number of characteristics which distinguish a profession, such as having a particular skill, which requires extensive training and eventually rather high qualifications. Besides, the set of defined skills should be an important service in society, the professionals should be autonomous and they are typically united into professional organizations. In his turn, the other scientist defines a term in his own way, which also separates professions from other types of occupations. A profession delivers esoteric services- advice or action or both- to individuals, organizations or government; to whole classes or groups of people or to the public at large…Even when manual, the action is determined by esoteric knowledge systematically formulated and applied to problems of a client. Thus, when summing up definitions by both researchers, it should be noted that profession is generally based on a certain kind of valued knowledge from which all other skills derive. Since knowledge belongs to the realm of thought, it is obvious that there might be space for subjective judgments on how this knowledge should be applied. Thus, professional ethics is necessary in this situation because it guides a person on the path of implementing their qualification empirically when ethical dilemmas and conflicts can emerge.

When discussing professional ethics in the context of Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophy of virtue, it is necessary to consider some of the basics offered by them. In Plato’s Republic there is an argument about the nature of human morality: whether it is only superficially regulated by public opinion, state laws and fear of punishment or it is an inherent feature of humans. Glaucon argues that virtue is deeply rooted in social regulations, and as soon as restrictions are removed, a person is tempted into immoral behavior. It is what happens to Gyges who abused his power for the sake of his egoistic and destructive desires. Even though Socrates objects that no happiness is attained by an unjust person like that and virtue is still an inborn feature, this example of Gyges is quite illustrative because it demonstrates how power can be used with evil purpose. It is true that professionals, like, for instance, physicians, lawyers or engineers, are empowered to take their own decisions based upon their qualification, experience and, very importantly, ethical standards. It is true that that professional ethics does not characterize a person as naturally virtuous or not virtuous, it is specially designed as an instrument of social control over professions and their place in society. It is also true that professional ethics should ensure that cases of being tempted by one’s own power are minimized because it is not about individual traits of the person (though personal ethics also helps), it is about the system of making ethics independent of personal characteristics.

Now, when turning to Aristotle, it should be mentioned that he believed that there is a direct connection between happiness and ethics: happiness is an activity of soul in accordance with perfect virtue(Aristotle). So, according to the philosopher, it is practically impossible to act against virtue and stay happy at the same time. Thus, because it is a natural desire of every person to be happy, it motivates people to be virtuous. Even though he rates his actions as virtuous or non-virtuous based on their subjective vision, part of virtue also lies in reputation, which is also true for a professional. As Aristotle says, men seem to pursue honour in order that they may be assured of their goodness; at least it is by men of practical wisdom that they seek to be honoured, and among those who know them, and on the ground of their virtue; clearly, then, according to them, at any rate, virtue is better. However, awareness that reputation in society is vitally important may not be enough to prevent professionals from ethical conflicts at all. The reason for this is that there are situations that are controversial in terms of general human ethics, and where several options may have their pros and cons. This is one of the reasons why professional ethics can be helpful to reduce a number of such conflicting situations. When clear ethical codes are available with direct instructions, it is easier to take decisions that would meet requirements imposed by society on a particular profession. These codes are usually legitimate because they are accepted by authorities and because they are approved by unions of professionals, so there is an element of collective responsibility.

In terms of utilitarian approach suggested by Bentham and Mill, it is stated that the value of one or another action is determined by its utility, or by conclusion to which extent it serves the universal good. By utility is meant that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness…or to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil, or unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered. It is true that utilitarian ethics focuses on capability to predict outcome of a person’s actions and to act in the way that as many people as possible will benefit from it. However, in reality, there are obstacles to utilitarian approach. First of all, in reality there is a large share of insecurity, which makes it impossible to accurately predict results of one or another action, especially for a large group of people. Besides, it can be especially noticeable in law professions, a professional is determined to care mostly about interests of his client, rather than other people, like, for instance, a wife and children of a man who is going to divorce with the help of a lawyer presenting his interests. Hence, a conflict between ethics and professionalism may arise in the number of situations.

Finally, following a particular code of ethics is not sufficient to act ethically in all situations, because there are a number of ethical roles that can both intervene and conflict with one another. He introduces a concept of “role morality”, stating that because a person has several social roles simultaneously, it is impossible to keep all of them balanced in all cases. Special social roles create their own unique moral obligation. This problem is quite serious and is met quite often; solution should be found in structuring ethics, where professional ethics should go first when professional tasks are considered. For instance, a lawyer should primarily think about what is ethical to their client, and only then about universal utility.

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Author: Grace Hudditon | Created at: 01.08.2019

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