Re-Imagining Society – The <New> Four Noble Professions?

Several months ago I presented at the Purposeful Planning Institute in Denver, CO.  I had the privilege of meeting with and exchanging ideas with some of North America’s thought leaders on social change and family counsel.  As you can imagine I was beside myself in excitement with discussion around wealth and social visions.  One such presenter that got my brain buzzing, was Jay Hughes, author, researcher and provocateur.  He presented on the four noble professions and it got me thinking about how these professions are represented (or not) within the social enterprise and social profit space. 

Before I can expand on this, there are some things that need to be defined.  Most importantly what are the four noble professions?  In Western Culture they are: Higher Academia (professors/PhD), Ministry, Medicine, Law.  In Chinese (Eastern) Culture they are: Farmers, Scholars, Artisans, Merchants.  You can see right from the start where there might be conflict and room for debate on the nobility of a profession.  At the core, it is what a society values.

As the world moves more and more to a flattened, global economy there is pressure to adopt different values.  It is my observation that we are moving away from the social sciences values to the financial/merchant values.  Not that these have to be in conflict, but based on the rhetoric that is presented in the media and extreme positions between energy and the environment as well as by our politicians, as a whole we are shifting. 

What does this shift mean?  Should the merchant or trader be one of the noble professions?  What will we, as a society give up by having this shift?  Are we giving something up?  As an entrepreneur in the tech space that has built software bridging financial sector with charities, this is a question that I have been grappling with for a few years.  My clients are, by their nature and the services they are seeking from my firm, successful in business.  Their advisors, by the very type of businesses they run, are also my clients upon whom my company and the technology we are building, are dependant.  What would happen if the social science side of my business was more dominant than the financial side?  Would my shareholders hold the same value and success expectations?  These questions are than just about triple-bottom line reporting.  These values are the drivers behind my business model and the very motivations for using the Dexterity Consulting services and expertise.

If we were to scrap both the Western and Eastern Noble Professions to create a Universal Noble Profession list, what would be on that?  Technologists?  Linguists? Social Workers? Economists?  Data Analysists? What would stay on the list?

I am not sure where we would go with this, but I think there is a discussion to be had because population demographics and resources are going to force our hands (and they already are) to re-examine our values and how those values are aligned with our professional landscape.



In 13c noble was well known and from wealthy families and had little to do with vocation. Usage shifted to include values like honesty, courage, generous, ethical.. but still not universally connected to a profession.

I believe people can be noble and ennoble others but I am not sure that a title has the same referent expectations anymore. There are admirable remarkable people in every position (well maybe not politics;)) and horrible selfish doctors, clergy, farmers, techies, and social workers.

If we were to encourage professions to establish a noble character and encourage noble people to consider joining, I would think the list would likely be different for each community, culture and time rather than exhaustive and comprehensive and universal.

Thanks for making me think on a Sunday morning.

So how is the thinking going for a Monday morning?


It's interesting that you take the perspective of noble profession as being values based and not necessarily connected to a specific profession.  If you look at the professions that have been highlighted, I think at their core is a sense of values that were supposed to be "higher" than the common man (hence, noble).  Do you think that our society has lost that sense of nobility and higher value?  Have we lost something because we have attributed a university education to the "right to be employed" afterwards, as opposed to what higher academia was intended to represent?

What about how we have under-valued the role of the doctor by making it a profession that so few actually want to be in because we have de-based it down to a dollar-per-minute exercise, instead of truly helping people?

More thoughts for an early week discussion...




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