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Professional Civility

Communicative Virtue at Work

Janie M. Harden Fritz

Winner of the Everett Lee Hunt Award 2014.
Winner of the NCA Clifford G. Christians Ethics Research Award 2013 from the Carl Couch Center for Social and Internet Research

The crisis of incivility plaguing today’s workplace calls for an approach to communication that restores respect and integrity to interpersonal encounters in organizational life. Professional civility is a communicative virtue that protects and promotes productivity, one’s place of employment, and persons with whom we carry out our tasks in the workplace. Drawn from the history of professions as dignified occupations providing valuable contributions to the human community, an understanding of civility as communicative virtue, and MacIntyre’s treatment of practices, professional civility supports the «practice» of professions in contemporary organizations. A communicative ethic of professional civility requires attentiveness to the task at hand, support of an organization’s mission, and appropriate relationships with others in the workplace. Professional civility fosters communicative habits of the heart that extend beyond the walls of the workplace, encouraging a return to the service ethic that remains an enduring legacy of the professions in the United States.
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Chapter 1: Virtue Ethics and the Professions


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Virtue Ethics and the Professions


A virtue ethics approach to professional roles offers a constructive framework for a communicative ethic of professional civility. Within this approach, civility in professional interaction takes the form of a communicative virtue supporting professional practice and its associated goods. Scholars addressing professional ethics from a virtue perspective argue that a virtue ethics approach provides a foundation for the good for professions that explains professional practices in terms of their contribution to the human telos, and in terms of the telos to which a particular profession tends (e.g., Oakley & Cocking, 2001). From this perspective, professions are communities that define goods for a particular occupation; professional virtues enacted by professional practitioners help support those goods, which, in turn, participate in and support the general good of human flourishing.

Scholars of professional virtue ethics build on the work of a number of theorists. One of these theorists is Alasdair MacIntyre (2007), who offered what some scholars consider the most successful contemporary articulation and reformulation of Aristotle’s notion of virtue (Pellegrino, 1995). MacIntyre situated virtue ethics within a moment of widespread public disagreement about the nature of what is good for humans to be and to do (Arnett, Fritz, & Bell, 2009). Scholars such as Borden ← 23 | 24 → (2007), Blackburn and McGhee (2004), and others (Brewer, 1997; Moore, 2002) have applied MacIntyre’s work to particular occupational areas, including journalism, and the context of business and...

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