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Michels, R. (1976). Professional Ethics and Social Values. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 3:377-384.

(1976). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 3:377-384

Professional Ethics and Social Values

Robert Michels

Men try to influence and control each other's behaviour. This has always been true and always will be. One of the unique characteristics of the specie is that the biological predetermination of behaviour is incomplete and that the actions of an individual are largely shaped by experience, particularly social experience. Although in recent years there has been considerable interest in biological means of behaviour control, most control is still mediated by social and psychological methods. Every parent, teacher, salesman, politician, or psychotherapist is a behaviour controller.

The exercise of control or power over another individual raises important ethical considerations and it is to these that we address ourselves here. A full exploration would require discussion of who is controlling whom, the motives of each for participation in the process, the tactics and strategy of influence, the goal, the actual effects of the intervention, and the social context in which it occurs (see Michels, 1973). I shall speak largely to this last issue, that of social context, and specifically focus on one aspect of that context—whether the behaviour controller is a member of a profession.

Some behaviour controllers are professionals, i.e. they belong to groups that are viewed by society as having certain abilities, skills, rights and obligations because of their knowledge and their moral commitment to use it in particular ways. Medicine is the prototype profession in modern society, and many professional behaviour controllers think of themselves as part of the medical profession or following a model exemplified by the medical profession.

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