Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Taking a moral holiday? Physicians’ practical identities at the margins of professional ethics
  1. Henk Jasper van Gils-Schmidt1,
  2. Sabine Salloch2
  1. 1Department of Health Sciences, Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Hamburg, Germany
  2. 2Institute of Ethics, History and Philosophy of Medicine, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Professor Sabine Salloch, Institute of Ethics, History and Philosophy of Medicine, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, 30625, Germany; salloch.sabine{at}


Physicians frequently encounter situations in which their professional practice is intermingled with moral affordances stemming from other domains of the physician’s lifeworld, such as family and friends, or from general morality pertaining to all humans. This article offers a typology of moral conflicts ‘at the margins of professionalism’ as well as a new theoretical framework for dealing with them. We start out by arguing that established theories of professional ethics do not offer sufficient guidance in situations where professional ethics overlaps with moral duties of other origins. Therefore, we introduce the moral theory developed by Christine M. Korsgaard, that centres around the concept of practical identity. We show how Korsgaard’s account offers a framework for interpreting different types of moral conflicts ‘at the margins of professionalism’ to provide either orientation for solving the conflict or an explanation for the emotional and moral burden involved in moral dilemmas.

  • Ethics- Medical
  • Health Personnel
  • Morals
  • Philosophy
  • Confidentiality

Data availability statement

No data are available.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Contributors Both authors developed the study concept and co-wrote the article. Both authors approved the final manuscript and its revision. SS is the guarantor.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Other content recommended for you