Journal Article

Promoting Compassionate Concern in Social Work: Reflections on Ethics, Biology and Love

Andy Bilson

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 37, issue 8, pages 1371-1386
Published in print December 2007 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online July 2006 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Promoting Compassionate Concern in Social Work: Reflections on Ethics, Biology and Love

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This paper challenges proceduralized, rule-bound approaches to ethics and considers how social workers and teams can develop an attitude of compassionate concern and become more effective in dealing with ethical problems in their day-to-day practice. It introduces the work of Humberto Maturana, a widely respected theorist, whose work has received little attention in social work. The paper argues that Maturana’s biology of cognition provides an approach to ethics that takes into account the spontaneous nature of everyday work in which social workers undertake their ethical actions. It stresses the importance of emotions, particularly love, and considers the way in which ethical action is shaped by culture. It emphasizes the importance of engaging in reflection on professional practices and team, professional and organizational culture in order for social workers to improve their awareness of ethical dilemmas and promote ethical practice. For those teaching ethics, this paper suggests an alternative to the rational consideration of moral dilemmas and proposes approaches to training that can help social workers become more attuned and responsive to ethical conflicts.

Keywords: biology; cognition; emotion; ethics; Maturana; social work

Journal Article.  7371 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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