Philosophy 318: Professional Ethics
Theodore Gracyk

Outline of Taylor Essay

Autonomy = self rule


Kant proposes that acting on our desires deprives us of autonomy. [This does not mean that doing what we desire is wrong. It means that the fact that we desire something is not a moral justification for seeking it.]

Desires don't identify DUTIES -- only REASON can identify them.


Many modern writers distinguish between desires that are authentically our own, as opposed to those that arise from "outside" -- only the "external" ones are a threat to autonomy

We are autonomous when we pursue desires that really are our own.
We respect the autonomy of others when we allow others to determine their own behavior in accordance with "their own views and wishes."

ISSUE: If others try to influence us PATERNALISTICALLY, that influence can deprive us of autonomy.


We therefore have an ongoing conflict: Professionals cannot simply structure the professional-client relationship by respecting the client's autonomy. To do this is to forget that the professional has EQUAL autonomy. [To ignore this is to ask the professional to abandon integrity.]

Example: A doctor who is morally opposed to abortion does not have to provide abortions to patients who seek an abortion.

What if, instead of directing the professional, the client wants the professional to assume a paternalistic relationship?

ISSUE: Can a person autonomously surrender autonomy?

Standard example: Ulysses and the Sirens: he had himself tied to the ship's mast so that he could hear the Sirens without going insane. He limited his autonomy in order to increase his (subsequent) autonomy.

Principle: One can autonomously surrender some decision-making and some satisfaction of desires (for a specific period of time) in order to satisfy other, future desires.

HOWEVER, this principle only applies when the autonomous "surrender" is guided by an ACTIVE EXERCISE of deliberation about doing so. AND the person must retain the option of rejecting what the professional advises. (In effect, the paternalistic professional only offers ADVICE -- even if the client only treats it as advice in those cases where the client actively vetoes or rejects a planned action, and is otherwise silent.)


The professional is wrong to support a client's fulfillments of her/his desires if doing so manipulates or harms a third party.

E.g., engineers must consider environmental pollution when designing a power plant.

Problem case: Is advertising inherently wrong as a manipulation of consumer desires? 

Problem case: What if, in the view of the professional, the client will harm herself/himself? (example: client wants a doctor to assist in a kidney sale)


Return to Course
Home Page
Return to Theodore Gracyk's Home Page 

            Last updated Sept. 14, 2011