In this paper, we offer an innovative alternative to the deontological and utilitarian approaches which tend to dominate social work ethics, instead proposing a proportionist ethics drawing on the work of Jürgen Habermas. Flyvberg (1998) claims that Habermas ‘distanced himself from phronesis and neo-Aristotelianism’, both of which he is purported to have ‘rhetorically . . . associated with neo-conservatism’ (p. 225) and Varela (1992) places Habermas squarely in the Kantian tradition. In this paper, we present an alternative interpretation of Habermas’s ethical stance, which is based on our perception of him as a keen observer of and commentator on modern life, not least about human intersubjective relations and communication, and our practical attempts to deal with the intractable problems of difference in an increasingly pluralistic world. Moreover, we see a form of proportionist thinking in Habermas which suggests a close alignment with Aristotelianism and, indeed, Thomism. For social work, an approach of this sort seems particularly urgent as the field tends increasingly towards, on the one hand, technological, rule bound, deontological frameworks, such as codes of ethics and ethics audits (Reamer, 2001) and, on the other hand, ideologically based ethics of care approaches, both of which tend to stultification and obstruction of the practical action appropriate to the age.
British Journal of Social Work Vol. 38, Issue 6, p. 1100-1114
This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in British Journal of Social Work following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version Lovat, Terence & Gray, Mel (2008). Towards a proportionist social work ethics: a Habermasian perspective. British Journal of Social Work Vol. 38, Issue 6, p. 1100-1114 is available online at: http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/content/38/6/1100