Towards a hermeneutics of life practice for welfare professionals in the age of the ecological imperative
Volz argues that the task of ethics can no longer be limited to the familiar questions of moral theory in the age of modernity: the questions of morality or right conduct for the autonomous individual (Volz, 1993; Kiesel and Volz, 2004). This is the framework that has formed the conventional ethics of social work as an individual therapy. Social work, Volz proposes, should now address itself to the task of enabling the individual to choose and live a life as a member of a specific cultural community, who at least potentially possesses a full and specific conception of the good life particular to his biography and socio-cultural circumstances (Volz, 2003). Such a move would recover the classical quest of philosophical ethics: for the good life and human flourishing. Volz proposes that the ‘heart of social work’ should be a ‘Lebensführungshermeneutik’ or ‘hermeneutics of life practice’ in which the professional aims above all to help the client discover the meaning of the life he wishes to lead. In this paper I will consider the role not only of social work but of welfare policy and practice more generally in promoting the realisation of the good life. The traditional discourse of professional ethics in the social professions has turned on respect and human rights. More recently it has begun to address itself more explicitly to wider questions of the good life and human flourishing, not merely in the abstract, but in particular real communities and cultural circumstances. The endeavours of professional ethics in the welfare professions lie within mainstream western political theory, social policy and state sponsored welfare practice. As such they are primarily oriented towards human flourishing; they are informed by what analysts of environmental thought often refer to as an anthropocentric perspective.