Reading Response Guidelines
A Reading Responses (RR) is an opportunity for students to individually reflect on what we read in class. Understanding, questioning, and writing about texts is part of the work of a philosopher. RRs are also opportunities for students to prepare to talk about texts in class. A thoughtful RR translates to a prepared and robust classroom discussion.
What is the author’s perspective when considering the text as a whole? You should try to restate the text into your own words, but this is different from merely restating each paragraph from beginning to end. How would you explain this perspective to a reasonably intelligent friend? How about a parent, who thinks taking philosophy classes is a waste of time? When doing this, it’s important to keep in mind something called the principle of charity. This is the idea that we should try to make as much sense of another’s argument as we can before we criticize it. When a charitable listener hears something that doesn’t make sense to them, they work to figure out how the other person might have arrived at that idea.
What evidence from the text supports your interpretation of the author’s perspective? How did you arrive at this particular interpretation of the text? Here you’re quoting specific sentences and relating them to your interpretation in the first paragraph. Please provide page numbers so others can more easily follow your thinking.
What do you think about what the author is saying? You can respond in any number of ways. You might argue that the author’s reasons they give don’t support their conclusion. You might provide additional examples or counterexamples, tell a story, refer to another relevant text, ask questions, or reframe the discussion to suggest another way to see the problem
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Professional Responsibility: Just Following the Rules? Author(s): Michael Davis Source: Business & Professional Ethics Journal, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring 1999), pp. 65-87 Published by: Philosophy Documentation Center Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27801083 . Accessed: 16/01/2015 12:39 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact email@example.com. . Philosophy Documentation Center is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Business &Professional Ethics Journal. http://www.jstor.org This content downloaded from 18.104.22.168 on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 12:39:27 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions VOL. 18,NO. 1 BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONALETHICS JOURNAL, Professional Responsibility: JustFollowing theRules? Michael Davis Introduction1 My subject is a criticism of conduct which runs something like this: ‘That’s not acting responsibly, that’s just following the rules.” The criticism appears as an attack on “legalism” in both business and profes sional ethics. While my focus here will be on professional ethics, everything I say should, with minor changes, apply equally well to following corporate or other business codes of ethics. Legalism (it is said) reduces professional responsibility todoing as the profession’s code of ethics requires; professional responsibility, likemoral responsibility generally, is more open-ended, including (among other things) certain virtues.2 My subject thus overlaps the larger debate in moral theorybetween “principle ethics” and “virtue ethics.” I shall draw some conclusions relevant to thatdebate. My thesis is that following “the rules,” while not all there is to professional ethics, is generally enough for responsible conduct (or, at least, is so when the profession’s code of ethics is reasonably well-written, as most are). Rules set the standard of professional conduct; just following those rules, in a relatively robustbut not unusual sense of “following those rules,” just is acting as a responsible professional. L Some Preliminaries The attack on legalism need not be put in termsof rules. One can make it in termsof “just satisfyingone’s obligations [orduties]” or “just respecting Business and Professional Ethics Journal 1999. Communication may be sent toMichael Davis, Center for the Study ofEthics in theProfessions, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL 60616; email: davism@ ? iit.edu. This content downloaded from 22.214.171.124 on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 12:39:27 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions 66 Business and Professional Ethics Journal others’ rights.” Indeed, Caroline Whitbeck recently combined all three versions in one omnibus attack on legalism: “Ifrights and obligations or rules about what acts to perform or refrainfrom performingwere all there were to professional ethics, itwould be a simple matter and hardly worthy of attention in a college course.”3 I shall, however, have littlemore to say about obligations or rights here for two reasons. First, obligations and rights can be, and often are, stated as rules. Hence, any discussion of rules implicitly includes obligations and rights (more or less). Second, any separate discussion of obligations or rightswould complicate my defense of legalism a good deal without adding much of substance.4 So, I shall concentrate on rules. When mere rule-following is contrastedwith acting responsibly, there is always something thatmere rule-following is supposed to leave out (hence the “mere”). Whitbeck, for example, explains in the following way why professional ethics deserves attention in a college course: “The exercise of responsibility typically requires the exercise of discretion and consideration ofmany technical matters and matters of value.”5 For her, what mere rule-following must leave out is, it seems, all exercise of discretion, technical knowledge, and consideration of value. She does not explain why mere rule-followingmust leave all this out. The explanation as I shall now show. is not obvious Consider this brief rule of engineering ethics having its counterpart in the code of ethics ofmost professions: “Engineers shall perform services only in areas of their competence.”6 Sometimes engineers do not need discretion or even much technical knowledge to know that the service in question is beyond their competence. (Think of an engineer asked to do brain surgery because she has a doctorate in engineering.) Often, however, engineers do need discretion, technical knowledge, and an understanding of the values inherent in engineering’s conception of competence todecide whether a certain service iswithin theircompetence. For example, whether writing a certain computer program iswithin the competence of an engineer may depend in part on whether the errors she is likely to commit given her skillwould create substantial risks for users or thirdparties. Deciding whether a risk is substantial combines technical judgments (such-and-such errors are likely)with judgments of value (the risks are, or are not, substantial). We must, I think,assume thatWhitbeck knows this. So, her criticism of rulesmust make a differentpoint one her words leave us toguess. We This content downloaded from 126.96.36.199 on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 12:39:27 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Professional Responsibility 61 are, then, in no position to decide whether her criticism of rules or the similar criticism of others is justified until we understand what “just following the rules” leaves out. And we are not likely to understand that until we understand what just following the rules might be. For that reason, I devote the body of this paper to considering seven different interpretationsof “just following the rules,” all that I have found in the literature,noticed in conversation, ormade up onmy own: blind obedience, strict obedience, malicious obedience, negligent obedience, accidental obedience, stupid obedience, and interpretative obedience.7 Having examined these seven, I conclude that,forprofessional ethics at least, the criticism of just following the rules is unjustified. Under all but one interpretationof “just following the rules,” the rules are not in fact being followed. Under that one (the interpretative), there is nothing obviously wrong with just following the rules. IL Following Rules Blindly or Strictly Part of teaching someone to follow a rule is teaching what the rule is. Many rules are (in part) linguistic entities. Learning such a rule is (in part) learning itsformula (“by heart,” as we say). Many of us first “learned” the alphabet in thisway, learning only laterwhat the sounds “ay,” “be,” “see,” and so on meant. (I still remembermy surprisewhen some weeks intofirst grade I realized that “ellemmennopee” referred to five distinct let ters rather than to an indistinct tangle in themiddle of the alphabet.) Someone who has “learned” a rule only in thisway has little, if any, His knowledge is as we understanding of what the rule means. say “merely verbal.” If ruleswere merely verbal entities, as nonsense syllables are, learning themwould amount tonothingmore thanmemorizing formulas. Such rote learning is (asWhitbeck says) not worth the attention of a college course. But rules, especially the rules of professional ethics, are more than non sense syllables. They mean something. That meaning is not merely linguistic (like themeaning ofmost puns) ormerely propositional (like the meaning of a scientific law). What rules generally mean, and what rules of professional ethics always mean, are acts required, allowed, or forbid den. Rules are guides to conduct (and, so, also standards for evaluating conduct).8 No one has learned a rule of professional ethics (in any robust sense of “learned a rule”) who has not understood itas a guide to conduct, This content downloaded from 188.8.131.52 on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 12:39:27 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions 68 Business and Professional Ethics Journal indeed, who does not have a prettygood idea how to guide her conduct by the rule. Those who learn the rules of professional ethics without understanding how theyguide conduct have taken only a small step toward learning them. We should, of course, not set the standard for learning a rule too high. We should not, for example, require perfect knowledge before we admit that someone has learned the rule. If knowing a rule meant knowing exactly what it required in
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