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Ethics education in the professions: an unorthodox approach


Ethics education in the professions has become close to compulsory with continuing education following suit. What is the de facto as opposed to the de jure function of an ethics education program? Have they increased compliance with laws and codes of conduct? Is that the goal? What would an ethics education program look like that was not primarily concerned with compliance with relevant laws or professional codes and not merely an exercise in good public relations? I argue that, ultimately, ethics education is about happiness… not happiness as we generally think of it today, but in the Aristotelian sense of “fulfillment” and the collateral good that is generated for clients (or patients) and the profession. As a result of this point of view I argue that ethics is not a subject in the normal sense of the term but a meta-subject which implies that teaching ethics as a class or stand alone module in a law, policy or practice management course is usually ineffective. Another implication is that the richest source for moral reflection within a profession are case studies generated by students in clinical assignments, despite the inherent risks associated with making these cases prominent.

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  1. This article is written with health related professional programs in mind, though I believe the concepts are easily adapted to other professions.

  2. One of my favorite editions of The Republic is Richards, I. A., trans. Plato’s Republic. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press (1966). Print.

  3. “For a large class of cases of the employment of the word ‘meaning’—though not for all—this word can be explained in this way: the meaning of a word is its use in the language.” (Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. Elizabeth Anscombe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell (1953). Print.)

  4. Bailey, Norman. An Optometrist’s Guide to Clinical Ethics. St. Louis: American Optometric Association (2000). Print.

  5. See

  6. Plato, The Republic, (514a–520a)

  7. Citek, Karl and (my name), Standard Nine, Institutional Integrity, unpublished report to accreditation committee, Pacific University, 2007.


  • Bailey, Norman. 2000. An Optometrist's Guide to Clinical Ethics. St. Louis: American optometric association. Print.

  • Richards, I. A., trans. 1966. Plato's Republic. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press. Print.

  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1953. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. Elizabeth Anscombe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Print.

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Working closely over the years with Paul Kohl from Pacific University’s College of Optometry (now deceased) and John Medeiros from the School of Physical Therapy was largely the inspiration for this paper.

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Correspondence to Marc Marenco.

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Marenco, M. Ethics education in the professions: an unorthodox approach. International Journal of Ethics Education 3, 193–206 (2018).

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  • Ethics education
  • Philosophy
  • Aristotle