Oxford Branch Seminar
There has, of late, been an increasing interest in the potential of virtue theory to provide a theoretical basis for professional ethics. While virtue theory’s evident practitioner focus does much to explain its appeal, the approach remains susceptible to complaints that ethical practice should properly be bound by rules, or that practitioners must necessarily have an eye to the ultimate consequences of their actions or to the general good. My aim here is to outline an alternative theoretical approach, one which by avoiding resort to the traditional deontological, utilitarian or virtue perspectives might provide a more cohesive theoretical basis for professional ethics.
My starting point is to differentiate, first, the three basic role types (the ‘practitioner’ being one such) that I suggest are necessarily implicated in ethical decision-making - something that seems to have been neglected by theories of ethics/social justice which emphasise variously just one of the three roles. Second, and drawing on previous work, I distinguish between three fundamentally different kinds of rules which delineate and essentially constitute professional practice; this, again, being something overlooked in the literature relating to professional practice where ‘rules’ are often conceived as being of a single type. Having distinguished the relevant role/rule types I propose that professional ethics can usefully be conceived as an integrated framework of rules whereby ethical roles are at once both interconnected yet differentiated by dint of being differently configured in relation to the rules. This, I will suggest, allows for a more coherent theory of professional ethics which can be seen to avoid many of the difficulties commonly associated with classical ethical theories.
Dr Gerard Lum is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Education Management at King's College London. His research is primarily in the philosophy and theory of education. He has a particular interest in epistemological issues relating to education and in recent work has been concerned with questions about professional education and professional ethics.