The ethics of practical reasoning—exploring the terrain

Tony Evans, Mark Hardy

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Social work has been under sustained scrutiny regarding the quality of decision-making. The assumption is that social workers make poor quality decisions. And yet our knowledge and understanding of how social workers make decisions is, at best, partial. In our view, examination of practitioner decision-making will be enhanced by considering the role that ethics plays in practical judgement in practice. Although there has been significant work regarding the role of values and ethics in practice, this work tends to idealise morality, setting up external standards by which practice is judged. In this paper, we will argue that ethics in practice needs to be understood as more than simply the operationalizing of ideal standards. Ethics also entails critical engagement with social issues and can challenge idealised statements of values. We outline the idea of the ethical dimension of practical reasoning, consider its relationship to professional discretion, judgments and decision-making and argue that this opens up an area of investigation that can illuminate the interaction between practice and ethical thinking and reflection in novel and – for social work, at least – unconventional ways.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)947-957
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Work
Issue number6
Early online date30 Jan 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Jan 2017



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