Rob Atkinson

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Health Matrix

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Health Matrix





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This article has two coordinate goals: to undergird the functionalist understanding of professionalism with classical normative theory and to advance the classical theory of civic virtue with the insights of modern social science. More specifically, this article seeks to connect classical theories about the care of the body and the soul with modern theories of market and government failure. The first step is to distinguish two kinds of professions, caring professions like medicine and public professions like law, by identifying the distinctive virtue of each. The distinctive virtue of the caring professions is single-minded commitment to those in their care, their principals, to the virtual exclusion of all other concerns; the distinctive virtue of the public professions is commitment to the common good, sometimes even at the expense of their principals’ self-defined interest. The next step is to show how these two distinctive professional virtues, the one principal-protecting, the other public-protecting, branch from the same root, the common function of all proper professions: guaranteeing the delivery of socially essential but necessarily esoteric knowledge when the usual protections of both private contracts and government regulation systematically fail. The third and final step is to map out the implications of this neo-classical understanding of professionalism, beginning at its core in the paradigmatic caring and public professions of medicine and law, through putative professions that take these as their models, to the kind of republican society that places care of individuals and concern for the public welfare at the center of its value system. The result of this analysis should be not only a fuller theoretical appreciation of professionalism’s proper function, but also a practical guide to professionals themselves for better service to both the individuals in their care and the common good of all humankind.


© 2013 Rob Atkinson


First published in Health Matrix.

Faculty Biography