Professional Responsibility: How Can We Develop Weber's Ethics of Responsibility As a Framework for Professional Ethics, and Why Should We Do so?

Friday, 20 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Harald MIEG, Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin, Germany
This paper examines Weber's ethics of responsibility as an analytical framework for the study of professional ethics. Traditionally, professional ethics is studied with regard to ethics codes, that is sets of rules established by professions to govern professional behavior. More recently, discussion has again arisen concerning the responsibilities of professions, emphasizing the central values which professions serve. This paper takes a third stance, based on an understanding of professional responsibility as a “social fact” (Durkheim) and a result of the social division of labor. We do not start by asking: “What should a profession / a professional do due to their professional responsibility?” but by asking: “How is responsibility organized, delivered, and performed in the case of professions?” The paper starts with a review of Abbott's (1983) seminal paper on professional ethics, i.e., codes of ethics (driven by status claims); and a review of Weber's concept of an ethics of responsibility (vs. an ethics of conviction) in the light of his understanding of rationality. This analysis reveals the main aspects of Weber's ethics of responsibility as being: (i) relational (a process of “responses” to relevant stakeholders), (ii) agency-focused (respect, autonomy), and (iii) based on the insight of an irresolvable value conflict (not bound to any substantive rationality). If we consider professions as the product of social closure, then codes of professional ethics serve as formal rationalities for securing trust in a form of personal service, regulated by a closed epistemic community (the profession) and delivered by individual members of that community. A Weberian understanding of professional responsibility shifts the focus from values and ideology to delivery and performance.