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Revising social work ethics_ Lessons from Adam Ferguson ...

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Revisingsocial work ethics:Lessons from Adam Ferguson and the Scottish Enlightenment
DavidMcKendrick and Stephen A. WebbGlasgow Caledonian University, Scotland
Why focus on the Scottish Enlightenment?Settingthe context and the relevance ofAdamFergusonFerguson, commercialism and the concept ofexploitationFerguson's civic virtue and magnanimity
TheScottish Enlightenment traditionadds a line of trajectory and critical insights as well as historical texture, to several key issues which relate to social work ethics that should necessitate seriousengagement.
"Despite critical differences between them, differences which have if anythingbeenunder-appreciated, I argue that the philosophers of the ScottishEnlightenmentwere unified by the commitment to human betterment in thisworldas the measure of progress, and to investigating the conditions of itsachievement“ (Robertson, 1997)
Rousseau’s locution:Scottishsocial science spoke incessantlyofvirtue andliberty whereas othersspokemainly of utility.
In Scotland between the years 1750and1790,in thework of Adam Smith,AdamFerguson,John Millar, and to alesserextent, thehistorian WilliamRobertson,aremarkably modern sociologicaltreatmentofsocietyandits institutions emerged,atraditionwhichwas largelyforgottenandignoredby thenineteenthcentury.
The irony is that this sociologicaltreatmentof societyand its institutions shouldhavebeen rejectedby nineteenth-centurysocialtheorists infavour oforganicismandthetheory of progress. The true heirs oftheScottish sociologicaltradition becamethesocialists and Marx.
This bridging of traditions in Fergusonisused as adevice here to reproducethesetwo related sideswhich reflect thecontoursofsocialwork ethics: Firstly, anemphasisoncivic virtueas informedbymoralphilosophyand secondly,the influence oftheoreticalsociology ofstructural power,exploitationand relations of domination
Ferguson was resignedto the fact that thedivision of labour wasaninevitablecontingency ofthe continuity of progress
Forms of government,” Ferguson tells us,“take theirrise, chiefly from themanner inwhich the membersof a state havebeenoriginally classed.”
Brewer (1986)(i) exploitationis understoodas economicexploitation;(ii) it is approachedthroughthe notionofhumanagency;(iii) and thediscussion of exploitationisintegrally linked toan ethical concernaboutIts injustice.
It has been said that ‘Ferguson’s pagesonthe divisionof labour are a minortriumph ofeighteenthcentury sociology’(Peter Gay,The Enlightenment,1970,II: 342–3)
Economic exploitation involves inequalityofpowerand control in the labourprocessandisintegrallylinked by Ferguson to the divisionoflabourandmechanicallabour, which are seentohave the effect of denuding anddiminishingthehuman agent. These adverse effects areanalysedthrough thenotionof humannatureandcan be described as alienation (p.471)
Herein lies an ethical imperative whichseeseconomicexploitation, and thedivisionoflabourto which it is ultimately linked,asharmful, wrong and unjust(Brewer, ibid).
Iain McDanielnotes"TheEssay on the History of CivilSocietyopens withan account of the'Characteristicsof Human Nature'. Ferguson's initialstrategyinthissection was tounderminethedistinction between natureand artificeuponwhichbothHobbes's and Rousseau'sargumentsrested" (2013; p.67)
"he taught his students at EdinburghthatJustice restedupon a 'dispositionfavourableto mankind' not on utility, a viewwhichObviously contrastedwithHume“(pp.71-72).
Ferguson’s published inspiration comesfromthe Stoicabsorption withsympathia,socialIntimacy andcommunitarianism, whichhethen applies tothecontemporarycondition’(Hill, p.152).
Ferguson the proto-socialist?
Magnanimity, courage, and the loveofmankind, aresacrificed to avarice andvanity,orsuppressedunder a sense of dependence.Theindividualconsidershis communityso faronlyas itcan be rendered subservient tohispersonal advancementor profit: hestateshimself in competitionwith his fellow-creatures
.. seemsto have slow movements, adeepvoice andcalm speech. For sincehe takesfew things seriously,heis in no hurry,andsince he countsnothinggreat, he isnotstrident;and these(attitudes s/heavoids)arethe causes of ashrillvoice andhastymovements (Aristotle,Ethics)
"Magnanimity involves reaching out to,andaccommodating, what is unknown,strangeandradically different. It denotes a newkindof opennessor hospitality.Itmeansworkingwith serviceusers from very differentculturaland geographicalbackgrounds fromourown“(Nixon, 2008).
Alasdair MacIntrye (1981):-"Ferguson's type of sociology which istheempiricalcounterpart of theconceptualaccount ofthe virtues which I have given,asociology whichaspirestolay baretheempirical,causal connection betweenvirtues,practices and institutions”.
Placing Enlightenment Thinking in Contemporary Sociology and Social Work
Scottish Enlightenment thinking represented aparadigmconcerned with keysociological concepts thatwas not evident elsewhere in BritainThese reference points are echoed byBordieuin his work on “cultural capital”Wacquantin his examination of the rise of the “hyperghetto”Standingin his work on the emergence of the “Precariat” as a “new, dangerous class”All of whom have direct reference points in modern day Social Work
The potential for a civic virtue of magnanimity
Thus social workers in doing good become good, wethereforecontend thatitis a necessityfor virtuous social workers tochallenge the causes of exploitation and that thisshould becentral plank of ouractivity. Social workers topromoteFerguson’smagnanimity as a central tenant of ourprofessional ethics.The question we pose is doexistingethical codes encourage and support this aim or do they develop an overly representative focus on the individual rather than notions ofthe“common weal”
Toward the virtue of a Common Weal
According to Thomas P Miller Aristotle’s civic humanism underwrote the Scottish approach to political and moral theory with an emphasis on practice wisdom and prudence. Aristotle struggled with the challenge of achieving “the common good for all” in a state of “community of equals”.For Chomsky Adam Smith developed a brand of “socialism”.Smith understood that upholding the common good requires substantial intervention to assure lasting prosperity of the poor by distribution of public revenues
Contemporary Social Work and the Common Weal
Feathersone, White and Morris in theircritiqueof Child Protection present the metaphor of a “muscular”state.Responsibility isindividualised and uncoupled from wider structural issues such as inequality discrimination and oppression.(e.g. DavidCameron’s comments on Tracy Connolly)The role of the social worker is as the muscular arm of the state concerned with enforcing compliance with the states notion of what constitutes good parentingNotions of communitarianism and community itself are seen as secondary to the actions and motivations of the individual. The statebecomesincreasingly weightless (Toynbee) and hollow
Contemporary Social Work and the Common Weal
Henry Giroux in describing the after effects of Hurricane Katrina, and the Bushneoliberal governance as a biopolitics ofdisposability.Marginalisedand poor members of society,are unableto engage in the prevailing consumeristethic. Theyare consigned to living in sinkholes of poverty in desolate or abandoned enclaves of decaying cities or rural spaces or in an ever expanding prison empire.Socialwork must challenge this andandreconsiderour existing ethical settlement and develop a new, radical ethical base that has at its heart an enlightenedapproach
Contemporary Social Work and the Common Weal
We must place the notion of virtue ethics which directly challenge discrimination, exploitation, and marginalisation as the core tenants of a new radical andEnlightenedScottish social work.





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Revising social work ethics_ Lessons from Adam Ferguson ...