Ethics for our Professional Lives

Ethics for our Professional Lives

Moral choices between competency and coherence

For those who enrol in a Master’s program, the curriculum at the IUS is really quite brief: a couple of years, and then you find yourself engaged, or once again involved in the most diverse professional scenarios. How can one connect the interdisciplinary and intercultural studies offered by Sophia with the experience of work and the concrete daily choices that each one will have to make?  How can one conduct themselves in a pluralistic, uncertain and fragmented context, and use the points of reference learned to face the reality at hand?

These are some of the questions dealt with in the course Ethics of Professional Life, that the IUS included at the end of its first year curriculum. Amy Uelmen, the professor who teaches the course, comes from the Faculty of Law at  Georgetown University (Washington DC, USA) and proceeds with an inductive method, beginning with case studies and role playing different decision-making scenarios.


After an introduction on the dynamics of moral choices and its different sources – the law, ethical codes of conduct and our cultural mores, which can act both as principles and guide, as well as obstacles – the course compares some typical situations of conflict between individual actions performed according to one’s conscience and the duties imposed by our professional environments.  Among the texts considered, particularly interesting is the “Letter from the Birmingham Prison” written by Martin Luther King Jr., which poses criteria and methods for making choices when social structures, including the law, humiliate human dignity.

What does it mean to dialogue in these situations? How can we evaluate demands and duties that derive from our professional roles? What language should we use to communicate our personal decisions? At what cost? And how can we measure the impact of our actions on the social fabric? What can we do so that our competencies do not end up to be a procedural approach, but place at the center the fact that every person is a free subject? What relationship exists between the protection of individual rights and the quest for the common good? What does it mean to be coherent with one’s values?

“There are more questions than answers,” said one of the students at the end of the lessons. “ And Amy Uelmen added: “One’s professional code of ethics is certainly an answer; at its base, however, there must be above all the conviction that our humanity is not fulfilled at the costs of others, but by living for the others.” And this justifies also the choice to confront and openly dialogue with those whose actions are motivated by other convictions, in order to give full human meaning to the difficult practice of our professions.

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