An interdisciplinary inquiry into the ethics codes of the helping professions : interpretations of moral principles and professional responsibilities



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Helping professionals help people to achieve optimal functionality and fulfillment in the physical, psychological, emotional and intellectual domains. Well-defined ethical standards for practitioners are crucial to such a vital endeavor. This study analyzes the official codes of ethics produced by the professional organizations of five of the helping professions: librarianship, psychology, social work, nursing, and education. In the ethics codes is sought interpretation of four moral principles—respect for autonomy, justice, beneficence, and non-maleficence—and four professional responsibilities—fidelity, veracity, privacy, and confidentiality. These are grounded, respectively, in the “common morality” or the core norms exercised by all morally serious people, and the “professional morality,” or the core norms exercised by all moral professionals. How do the professions define, interpret, and express the principles and responsibilities? This interdisciplinary study clarifies and allows comparison of the expressed values of each profession. It is a critical examination of professional codes of ethics, and an argument for their explicit grounding in a larger morality.