Editor's note: This paper was read at the eighth annual University of Dayton Philosophy Colloquium, held in 1979.

If one studies the statements emerging from those organizations which undertake to speak for professions, one is struck by the codes of ethics and canons of professional responsibility which appear so frequently as to make them seem almost the hallmark of professionalism itself These codes appear to be based on the assumption that some actions can merit one assessment if undertaken by a certain professional, but another assessment if undertaken by some other person. For a philosopher, perhaps the most interesting thing about professions is their suggestion that there somehow exist certain special justifiable standards for the conduct of a certain class of persons. At least two questions are raised. First, one wonders what might be the justification for these special standards? And second, one wants to know how it is possible to delineate the proper dimensions of these special standards and to assess the magnitude of the claim that they have upon professionals. These are, I submit, the two most important philosophical issues that arise in the field of professional ethics. It is the aim here to map an approach to them.

The argument here presented is an attempt to show how distinctive responsibilities of the individual professional can be understood in terms of the responsibility of his or her profession, taken as a whole. In the first section, I will be developing a concept of responsibility that is fundamental in this context. In the second, I will show how professions can come to have such responsibilities. Finally, I will sketch the relationship between the responsibilities of professions and the responsibilities of professionals.



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