The past century has seen the complexity of people’s work lives increase significantly. This increased complexity is often accompanied by the need to make morally significant decisions. The field of professional ethics seeks to understand how professionals confront such decisions, to help them improve their moral decision-making abilities, and to gauge their obligations to their profession, clients, and society.
Fundamental to this realm is the question of what a profession is. While this issue remains the subject of some debate, a profession is generally considered to be defined by having members who share a group identity, establish and enforce performance standards, and use their knowledge to serve others, especially the public. Many professions have established professional codes of ethics, which they expect their members to uphold. One of the earliest examples of this is the Hippocratic Oath, which articulates the fundamental obligations that physicians should uphold.