The ethics of practical reasoning: exploring the terrain

Mark Hardy, Tony Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 operationalise ideal standards, ethics also entails critical engagement with social and ethical 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 in order to provide a clear focus for this research agenda, and identify the practical challenges researching ethics in professional decision-making entails.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)947-957
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Work
Issue number6
Early online date30 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017

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