Professional Values, Aesthetic Values, and the Ends of Trade
Medicine, health care, and philosophy 2011 May; 14(2): 195-201
Professionalism is initially understood as a historical process, through which certain commercial services sought to improve their social status (and economic reward) by separating themselves from mere crafts or trades. This process may be traced clearly with the aspiration of British portrait painters (headed by Sir Joshua Reynolds), in the eighteenth century, to acquire a social status akin to that of already established professionals, such as clerics and doctors. This may be understood, to a significant degree, as a process of gentrification. The values of the professional thereby lie as much in the etiquette and other social skills with which they deal with their clients, than with any distinctive form of skill or value. Professionalisation as gentrification seemingly says little about the nature of modern professionalism. However, if this process is also construed as one in which the goals and achievements of the profession come to be subject to radical reflection, then something significant about professional values emerges. On this account, the profession is distinguished from craft or trade on the grounds that the goals of the profession, and the effectiveness of any attempt to realise them, are not transparent to the client. While a lay person will typically have the competence necessary to judge whether or not a craft worker has achieved their goal, that person will not necessarily be able to recognise the values that determine the success of a medical operation. It will be concluded that the values of a profession are articulated intrinsically to the profession, in terms of the contested understanding that the professionals themselves have of the meaning of the profession and the narratives within which its history is to be told.
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