A piece appeared in The Atlantic a few days ago that aims to prick the perceived bubble of professional ethicists. In fact, the headline is pretty hostile: THE HYPOCRISY OF PROFESSIONAL ETHICISTS. Blimey. The sub-headline doesn’t pull its punches either: “Even people who decide what’s right and wrong for a living don’t always behave well.”
I know that headlines are frequently not written by the person whose article they head, and so these won’t tell us much about the article – but, even so, I’m beginning to twitch. Do I decide what’s right and wrong for a living? I don’t think I do. I possibly thought that that’s what an ethicist does when I was a fresher, or at school – but I’m not certain I did even then. And even if I did, I discovered pretty quickly that it’s quite a bit more complicated than that. For sure, I think about what’s right and wrong, and about what “right” and “wrong” mean; and I might even aspire to make the occasional discovery about right and wrong (or at least about how best to think about right and wrong).* But as for deciding what is right and wrong? Naaaah.
Anyway: to the substance of the piece, which – to be fair – is more moderate in tone, pointing out that “those who ponder big questions for a living don’t necessarily behave better, or think more clearly, than regular people do”. That’s probably accurate enough, at least a good amount of the time. I’d like to think that I’m thinking better about a particular problem than most people when I’m working on it; but I’m also thinking better about in that context than I would be at other times.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.