Action Theory and the Human Condition by Talcott Parsons

By Talcott Parsons

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Thus, the ultimate responsibility for standards both of competence and of integrity must rest with the professional complex itself. To use the medical case for reference, the principle of caveat emptor for the purchaser of health services will scarcely be adequate as a basis for accountability. Nor will legal liability be sufficient, if this must be enforced by judges and attorneys who are not technically competent at professional levels in anything but the law, and if the initiative is left to litigants who conceive themselves to be injured and are willing and financially able to assume the burden of litigation.

Just as patients often serve as research subject, so do students, particularly in the behavioral sciences. This paper will attempt to deal with the ethical problems of human experimentation in research in the context of the professional complex as a whole. The discussion will focus on the interdependencies of the three principal professional functions of practice, research, and teaching. In modern systems, the interrelations among the institutional provisions for these functions are complex. They overlap to a great extent, however, since the same organizations and the same personnel are frequently involved in at least two, if not three, of the functions.

35 36 SOCIOLOGY OF HEALTH AND ILLNESS proportion of research subjects is drawn from patient populations. The ethical problems of therapy are very old indeed, and tradition provides a frame of reference from which to consider new aspects of medical involving human subjects. There is also an important continuity with other professional fields. The legal profession, for example, has a long tradition dealing with the relations between lawyers and their clients. / Research and practice are two principal functions of what I shall call the "professional complex" in modern society: The first is concerned primarily with the creation of new knowledge and the second with the utilization of knowledge in the service of practical human interests.

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