Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 24, Issue 5, pp 433–454 | Cite as

What can we learn by looking for the first code of professional ethics?

  • Michael Davis


The first code of professional ethics must: (1)be a code of ethics; (2) apply to members of a profession; (3) apply to allmembers of that profession; and (4) apply only to members of that profession. The value of these criteria depends on how we define “code”, “ethics”, and “profession”, terms the literature on professions has defined in many ways. This paper applies one set of definitions of “code”, “ethics”, and “profession” to a part of what we now know of the history of professions, there by illustrating how the choice of definition can alter substantially both our answer to the question of which came first and (more importantly) our understanding of professional codes (and the professions that adopt them). Because most who write on codes of professional ethics seem to take for granted that physicians produced the first professional code, whether the Hippocratic Oath, Percival’s Medical Ethics, the 1847 Code of Ethicsof the American Medical Association (AMA), or some other document, I focus my discussion on these codes.

code ethics ideal medicine Percival principle profession rule 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Baker, Robert. “Deciphering Percival's Code.” In Codification of Medical Morality. Edited by Robert Baker et al. 179–211. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1993.Google Scholar
  2. Baker, Robert B. et al., eds. The American Medical Ethics Revolution. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.Google Scholar
  3. Beauchamp, Tom L. and James F. Childress. Principles of Biomedical Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.Google Scholar
  4. Davis, Michael. Profession, Code, and Ethics. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002.Google Scholar
  5. Durkheim, Emile. Professional Ethics and Civic Moral. London: Routledge, 1957.Google Scholar
  6. Friedson, Elliot. Professional Powers: A Study of the Institutionalization of Formal Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.Google Scholar
  7. Gjerset, Knut. History of Iceland. New York: Macmillan Company, 1924.Google Scholar
  8. Gorlin, Rena A., ed. Codes of Professional Responsibility. Washington, D.C.: The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., 1986.Google Scholar
  9. Johnson, David. Roman Law in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.Google Scholar
  10. Jonsen, Albert R. A Short History of Medical Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.Google Scholar
  11. Ladd, John. “The Quest for a Code of Professional Ethics: An Intellectual and Moral Confusion.” In AAAS Professional Ethics Project: Professional Ethics Activities in the Scientific and Engineering Societies. Edited by Rosemary Chalk, Mark S. Frankel, and Sallie B. Chafer. 154–159. Washington, D.C.: AAAS, 1980.Google Scholar
  12. Maehle, Andreas-Holger and Johanna Geyer-Kordesch, eds. Historical and Philosophical Perspectives on Biomedical Ethics. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2002.Google Scholar
  13. Percival, Thomas. Medical Ethics; or a Code of Institutes and precepts Adopted to the Professional Conduct of Physicians and Surgeons. Manchester: S. Russell, 1803.Google Scholar
  14. Sulmasy, Daniel P. “What is an Oath and Why Should a Physician Swear One?” Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 20 (1999): 329–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Tröhler, Ulrich and Stella Reiter-Theil, eds. Ethics Codes in Medicine: Foundations and Achievements of Codification Since 1947. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998.Google Scholar
  16. Waddington, Ivan. “The Development of Medical Ethics: A Sociological Analysis.” Medical History 19 (1975): 36–51.Google Scholar
  17. Watson, Alan. The Spirit of Roman Law. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  18. Weber, Max. Economy and Society. Edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Davis
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for the Study of Ethics in the ProfessionsIllinois Institute of TechnologyChicagoU.S.A.

Personalised recommendations