Professional Ethics

“Deliberative Restriction and Professional Roles”, in Tim Dare and Christine Swanton (eds), The Ethics of Professional Roles (New York: Routledge, 2019), pp. 173-93.

When we are acting in a professional capacity, that can restrict the considerations that properly feature as reasons in our deliberation. Three different possibilities need to be distinguished. First, there are cases of concealed reasons, where fact F is a reason for action A, but F should not feature in your deliberation about A. Secondly, there are cases of context-undermining, where fact F fails to provide a reason for performing action A in one context, even though F is a reason for A in other contexts. And thirdly, there are cases of exclusionary reasons. When fact F is a reason for action A, another fact E functions as an exclusionary reason when it is a reason not to be guided by F in A-ing. The paper begins by explaining the difference between these three possibilities, and then considers their various applications to the normative ethics of professional roles. Each of these different possibilities turns out to have important professional applications, and the differences between them are instructive.

One prominent approach in ethical theory, strongly influential in medical ethics, has at its foundations competing principles of beneficence and respect for autonomy. In the clinical context, the clinician must balance respect for the patient’s autonomy against concern for that patient’s welfare. In the research context, the researcher must balance respect for the participant’s autonomy against concern for other people’s welfare. While I think this gets some important things right, the focus of this essay is on explaining some of the ways in which approaching these issues as a matter of balancing beneficence against respect for autonomy is too simplistic. In the clinical context, a right of self-determination constrains paternalistic action. In the research ethics context, a right of self-ownership constrains exploitation – the use of others as a means. After explaining the difference between these two rights, the paper focuses on the latter, asking two principal questions. First, what are the boundaries of the right of self-ownership? Who has this right, when and why? And secondly, how should we think about the conditions under which the right may permissibly be infringed?