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Hall DE. The guild of surgeons as a tradition of moral enquiry. The Journal of medicine and philosophy. 2011 May 16; 36(2):114-32.
Alisdair MacIntyre argues that the virtues necessary for good work are everywhere and always embodied by particular communities of practice. As a general surgeon, MacIntyre's work has deeply influenced my own understanding of the practice of good surgery. The task of this essay is to describe how the guild of surgeons functions as a more-or-less coherent tradition of moral enquiry, embodying and transmitting the virtues necessary for the practice of good surgery. Beginning with an example of surgeons engaged in a process of moral discernment, I describe how the practice of surgery depends on the cultivation of a certain kind of practical wisdom (phronesis) that effectively orders the techniques of surgery toward particular notions of human flourishing within the limits of what is possible with the particular body on which the surgeon operates. I then argue that one reason why surgeons train in an apprenticeship model of "residency" is to cultivate not only the technical skill but also the practical wisdom to perform good surgery. I conclude by noting that the surgical profession is enduring necessary, but unprecedented, changes in the way it practices and transmits its art; and without deliberate and sustained attention to the character formation of surgeons, the profession runs the risk of creating excellent technicians who are nonetheless ill-equipped to practice wise and good surgery.