Learned professions

Posted by Doug on November 24, 2004

In Reply to: Learned professions posted by SR on November 22, 2004

: : : : What is the meaning of the phrase "the learned professions"?

: : : 29 CFR 541.301 - Learned professions.

: : :
: : : Section Number: 541.301
: : : Section Name: Learned professions.

: : : --

: : : (a) The ``learned'' professions are described in Sec. 541.3(a) as
: : : those requiring knowledge of an advanced type in a field of science or
: : : learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized
: : : intellectual instruction and study as distinguished from a general
: : : academic education and from an apprenticeship and from training in the
: : : performance of routine mental, manual, or physical processes.
: : : (b) The first element in the requirement is that the knowledge be of
: : : an advanced type. Thus, generally speaking, it must be knowledge which
: : : cannot be attained at the high school level.
: : : (c) Second, it must be knowledge in a field of science or learning.
: : : This serves to distinguish the professions from the mechanical arts
: : : where in some instances the knowledge is of a fairly advanced type, but
: : : not in a field of science or learning.

: : : There is a more detailed explanation on the US Gov't Labor Department website. SR

: : These would include, I imagine, medecine, law, architecture and engineering. There must be more, priesthood perhaps?

: much more from googling 'the learned professions.'
: "Learned or Common Profession?
: Over the next few centuries, "profession" came to refer to any avowal of a calling, whether religious or not. A professional was then someone who followed a specific calling, someone distinguishable from both the ignorant and the jack-of-all-trades. This wider use of "profession" opened the way for a distinction between the "learned professions" -theology and its university off-shoots, law and medicine-and the rest, the "common professions," silversmith, merchant, and so on, trained through mere apprenticeship." SR

The Code of Federal Regulations is not authoritative. Definitions therein are often manufactured to meet a specific regulatory purpose and may not be indicative of current or historical usage.

The distinction between university trained and apprenticed is historically dangerous ground. Although all required, at in their higher forms, "advanced learning", none of the learned professions were primarily obtained through university study prior to 19th century. Law was almost exclusively an apprenticeship process until Harvard changed things in the late 1800s and only in the 1950s did it begin to require an advanced degree (in England it has never been something one obtained by mere university study). Medicine was often the same though a study of the liberal arts and sciences probably helped one understand anatomy and physiology and might differentiate a physician from his lesser colleaques (surgeons their ilk). Even divinity did not always involve what we would think of as university study. Philosophy Doctors on the other hand, while usually having considerable time in university study, define no coherent profession.

What I believe distinguishes these three professions (divinity, law, and medicine) from all others, historically, is the absolute requirement for literacy (usually in Latin even long after literacy in the native tongues became common). Law and divinity also require rhetorical skill. All three were also traditionally believed to require high ethical standards. Civil Engineering, though often practiced by the same social classes as the learned professions, required numbers not letters.