318: Professional Ethics
Outline of Ellin Essay
Professional life is
governed by one of two approaches.
Ordinary moral obligations take priority. There is
nothing special about professional life; no special
professional obligations do not arise from ordinary
ones. Some professional obligations are parallel with
(and different from) what we'd see for a
non-professional. Therefore professional life creates
On the priority view, both lies and deception are
wrong, but lies are worse. (Lies are statements made by a speaker that
the speaker believes to be false at that time, made to "plant" a false
belief in someone else. Deceptions are either encouragements to draw a
false conclusion, or failures to provide information that encourage the
uninformed person to draw a false conclusion.)
On the parallel view, lying to a client is seriously
wrong, and deception is not morally wrong.
So either professional standards on lying are wrong,
or the parallel view is wrong.
Starts with question of WHY lying is wrong.
Could focus on the harm of having a
Or focus on the lack of respect shown
to someone else (because we are attempting to
manipulate, showing lack of respect for autonomy).
Either of these would seem to equate lying and
Or we could appeal to rights: We have
a right to be given true information when others tell us
things, and so to be knowingly told false things (lies)
is a violation of our right to the truth. But we
(usually) have no right to information, so not being
given it is not a violation, so deception is (usually)
not the same a lying. But that seems to make deception
not wrong at all.
So, what story makes lying worse, but both of them
Since lies make it more likely to draw
a false conclusion than silence or other deception,
because it's harder to avoid drawing a false inference,
then tell a lie is to intentionally exploit the weaker
position of the audience in this case, so it's worse.
Liars are responsible for any false
belief created, but a deception makes the person a
co-agent in the deception, so there's less
Implicit contract view: Exchanges of
idea require a social contract that presupposes no
deception, and the implicit promise to tell the truth is
more clearly attendant on speaking than on other social
interaction. So lying is worse than deception, because
language use falls apart without truth.
Based on these three arguments, lies are worse, in
ordinary life. (And will be worse in professional life if the priority
view is correct.)
HOW IS PROFESSIONAL LIFE DIFFERENT? (Shifting to the parallel
Take the five models of professional-client
interaction (where P is the professional and C is the client):
Adversary -- Equals bargain with each
other and determine the relationship. Always includes
some level of mistrust.
Cooperative -- This is the
friendship/affinity model. It has trust, but the trust
is not necessarily merited by anything.
Agency -- P works for C's goals as
defined entirely by C. P needs to be competent,
but C does not need to put much trust in P.
Exploitation -- Some professionals
exploit their clients, which requires trust in P, but
the trust will not be merited.
Fiduciary -- P works for C's
interests, not just those defined by C. THIS REQUIRES
TRUST AT VERY HIGH LEVELS, and P must earn that trust by
The fiduciary relationship involves a special
promise: P will look out for C's interests to the degree that those
interests fall within the scope of P's area of expertise. (NOT as
selected by C, which might be a wider range, nor according to the wider
scope of interests that would be required in a cooperative model (e.g.,
in a friendship).)
P knows more than C, and cannot tell C everything;
therefore there is no wrong when P withholds (or deceives by false
inference) if doing so is not contrary to C's interests as they fall
within the scope of the professional relationship. AND there may be
cases where withholding does more to ADVANCE C's interests than does
full disclosure of the truth.
The case of failed surgery. If failure
to inform won't harm the patient, but disclosure will,
then deception is justified.
The case of failing business: Suppose
C's absence from work is ruining C's business, but C's
health requires that absence (for surgery & recovery).
The doctor advises the family to withhold the truth.
Here, ordinary moral rules are overridden by the
professional's duties. (And, since the topic is not
medical, the doctor has no duty to inform the patient.)
BUT, since trust is more important in professional
life than ordinary dealings, LYING must never be tolerated. AND this
gets us the result that lying is much worse in the professional setting.
Asked a straight question, the professional must answer the client,
unless doing so would destroy the client. But THAT is almost never going
to happen, so lying is almost always wrong between P and C.