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The Role-Morality on Profession

Rhylee Suyom has hopped in three different worlds: the academe, the corporate, and the media. He enjoys being with nature and his family.

Does educational attainment mirror one's morality?


The Role-Morality on Profession

The main purpose of education and formal schooling is to draw out the best in each learner or student. Through the process of exposing, teaching, mentoring, simulating, guiding, and constant monitoring, mentors, coaches, educators, teachers, parents, guides, masters, and preachers believe that learners become the best they can be. Along with the many forms of learning given to learners, the development of one’s character is also enhanced or enforced. As learners receive titles and distinctions as a form of measurement of their success, a degree of expectations on the development of one’s character is also meted. Thus, it is believed and expected that the more education one has or the higher formal schooling one has attained, others perceive the person to have a better and higher character than those with lower levels of educational and formal schooling. With the perception of different people on the nature and purpose of each profession achieved in formal schooling, the learner is sometimes left in the opposing and conflicting ethical roles he must perform or do from out of the expectations of different people around. For this purpose, this paper is written to discuss about whether professions generate distinct and potentially conflicting ethical roles for practitioners or not.

One of the most sought-after professions in formal schooling is law. Although the profession as a lawyer is often riddled with controversy, many learners and students choose to pursue this vocation for various purposes (Pepper, p. 1986). This profession is controversial according to David Luban. In his 1988 article titled “Lawyers and Justice,” Luban identified three groups of people who have different and conflicting perceptions about a lawyer. These three are: the ordinary people, other lawyers, and moral philosophers. According to Luban, these three groups create confusion on the ethical role of all lawyers. Take the case of ordinary people who see lawyers as someone who lies and manipulates evidence, testimonies, and data to protect clients. Lawyers in general as mentioned by Luban only see what and how the legal system has for the merits of the case and the lawyers while the moral philosophers only busy themselves if there is a certain moral dilemma or issue at hand. Plainly stated by Luban “can a lawyer be a good person?” (Wasserman, 1990).

This question is what constitutes role-morality. Can someone be good while doing his profession? Take a case of a Nazi soldier during World War II. If he was ordered to shoot a female teenage Jew, will he be ethically and morally correct if he did so in view of loyalty to Hitler and Germany? What about to the rest of humanity, will he still be ethically and morally upright? This dilemma is what makes role-morality a very sticky point of discussion.

Michael Boulette in his research titled “Two Concepts of Role-Morality – in Search of a Normative Language of Legal Ethics” defined role-morality for lawyers as “freeing lawyers of responsibility for their client’s actions insofar as they avoid participating in fraudulent or criminal behavior and do not otherwise violate the rules of professional conduct or other law” (p.11). Notice that the barometer or measuring stick of role-morality has always been professional ethics.

Professional ethics is essentially the collective private conscience of a particular group of professionals. Michael Davis in his 1991 article titled “Thinking like an Engineer” identified key principles or factors in the code of professional ethics to prevent ethical dilemma from the perceptions of the three groups of people earlier mentioned. First, there must be a set of codes which all must agree upon such as ‘a convention between professionals.’ Second, the aim is cooperation to achieve a specific ideal which individually could not be realized. Third, the code of ethics will serve as the guidelines in achieving the agreed-upon or common ideals with the least possible cost and intervention if possible. Fourth, the code serves various functions such as protection from outside threats, taking advantages, consequences of competition, and coordination problems (42 – 48). In totality, a professional code of ethics is the very scriptures of professionals yet what if the same code cannot or can never satisfy the demands of all three groups of people in the scenario? Sadly, this is the truth behind the stark reality in adhering to the role-morality dependent on professional code of ethics.

Using the same case of the Nazi soldier, the three groups will all have varying perceptions of ethical and moral uprightness should the soldier obeys the order and shoots the female teenage Jew. First, the soldier’s superiors will see him to be a morally upright, ethically sound, and loyal professional who obediently follows the code without question. To them, he is a perfect example of a good Nazi soldier. Second, the soldier will be seen as a scourge or curse of humanity by the Jews or the people of the world since his obedience is self-serving and merely for a small minority in the entire population of the world. Third and last, moral philosophers will argue about his action using the two earlier perceptions.

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Immanuel Kant in his principles in the second chapter of his “Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals” stated that it is impossible to use a single experience, event, situation, or condition to establish a moral ground. Similarly, he pointed out that it is impossible or near impossible to come up with specific universal laws from specific events and observations alone (Kant, 2004). This then means that using a singular event such as the case of the Nazi soldier will not be enough to develop a universal law on ethics, morality, or even role-morality. This is just not how it is supposed to be. Even if Luban postulated the principle of utilitarianism, having all three groups to agree should be the goal of role-morality and not a mere handful of people who agreed on a certain set of codes (Wasserman, 1990).

In conclusion, role-morality will be a constant sticky point of discussion and disagreement. It deals with the intricacies of human life which is abstract and almost immeasurable and ephemeral ----- conscience. Nazi Germany thought they were doing the world a favor when they were trying to wipe out the Jews from off the planet. Had they succeeded in doing so, history would have made them heroes. Role-morality in fact has little to do with what is right and wrong. History has more to offer since literature is biased based on who writes it and who won or wins then becomes the chronicler of time. Whether or not a profession is seen as morally and ethically upright is up to the three groups of people. Admittedly, pleasing all three groups is nothing but a paradox or an illusion since it is and will always be impossible to please everybody.



Davis, Michael. (1991). "Thinking Like an Engineer.” Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions at IIT. N.p.

Kant, Immanuel. (2004). “Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals.” UK: Bookpubber. Pp. 41 – 62.

Pepper, Stephen. (1986). The Lawyer’s Amoral Ethical Role: A Defense, A Problem, and Some Possibilities, 11 Am Bar Found. Res. J. Pp. 613 - 614

Wasserman, David. (1990). “Should a Good Lawyer Do the Right Thing? David Luban on the Morality of Adversary Representation,” pp. Maryland Law Review. Volume 49. Issue 2. Article 6. Pp. 9 – 15.

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