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Engineering Ethics

"Engineering ethics is (1) the study of the moral issues and decisions confronting
individuals and organizations involved in engineering and (2) the study of related
questions about moral conduct, character, ideals, and relationships of people and
organizations involved in technological development." Martin &Schinzinger, Page 4
"To say that an act is right is not to express a mere feeling or bias, but instead to
assert that the best moral reasons support doing it." M&S p. 32
What are the Moral Problems which Confront Us?
"... ethical problems arise most often when there are differences of judgment or
expectations as to what constitutes the true state of affairs or a proper course of
action." M&S, p.7
"... when we speak of moral problems we have in mind situations where what
ought to be done is not so straightforward and obvious."
"First, it may be unclear ... which, if any, moral considerations or principles apply
to their situation."
"Second, the difficulty might be that two different moral principles, both of which
apply to one's situation, come into conflict or that one principle seems to point
simultaneously in two different directions." M&S p.25
Why a moral framework?
Illuminates connections between engineering codes of ethics and everyday morality
Helps make moral choices, resolve moral dilemmas
What are the Sanctions of Morality?
Feelings of Guilt - conscience
Public Exposure - humiliation
Public (Legal) Punishment

FOUR BASIC TYPES OF MORAL THEORY:


1.) VIRTUE ETHICS
Virtue ethics is the oldest of the moral theories, often "rules" based sometimes
based upon Divine Command.

The emphasis is on becoming a morally good person as opposed to acting in a moral


manner. It is a teleological ethical system from telos (goal or end) considering the
basic question: What does it mean to be a good person?
Three basic concepts are derived from Greek Philosophy:
Arte excellence or virtue
Phronesis practical or moral wisdom
Eudaimonia happiness or flourishing.
Virtues are acquired habits that enable us to engage effectively in rational activities.
"Virtues are desirable ways of relating to other individuals, groups, and
organizations. They have as much to do with motives, attitudes, and emotions, as
they do with right and wrong conduct." M&S, p.40
Moral actions are based on virtue. Wrong actions arise from bad character traits
vices
The rewards of living a virtuous life can vary from eudaimonia a serene and
respected old age - to entry into heaven or similar metaphysical rewards.
Some Major Proponents of Virtue:
Plato discussed the four cardinal virtues in the Symposium.
Aristotle (384-322 BC)
Virtues enable one to have a happy life (an active life based upon reason.)
Listed four cardinal virtues: wisdom (prudence), courage (fortitude), temperance,
and justice.
"Unity of Virtues" to have one cardinal virtue is to have them all
Other authors have expanded the list of cardinal virtues to include: integrity, unity
of character, honesty and self-respect.
St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae and Commentary on Nicomachean Ethics
David Hume and the Scottish enlightenment.

PROFESSIONAL VIRTUES:
Responsibility is the fundamental professional virtue
some aspects of responsibility include:
can be counted on to do the right thing
conscientious
diligent in meeting obligations
trustworthy

considerate of others
There are different viewpoints on what responsibility means. A responsible
person:
has the capacity to make moral judgments.
makes a conscientious effort to meet the obligations of one's work.
is accountable for actions and their consequences.
Accountability - implies that the action is not completely involuntary
Aristotle defined involuntary as:
1.) acts done in ignorance, although ignorance can itself be a moral failing
2.) acts performed under compulsion
Responsibility in this sense has two different connotations: Causal and Legal
Self-direction Virtues: self understanding, humility, moral autonomy, courage, selfdiscipline,
perseverance, self respect, integrity, honesty
Public Spirited Virtues: beneficence, generosity, sense of community
Team Work Virtues: collegiality, cooperation, respect for authority, loyalty
Proficiency Virtues: competence, diligence, creativity.
Often , virtue ethics are associated with religious teachings. Divine Command
Ethics stipulates that an act is right if commanded by God, and wrong if
forbidden by God.
2.) RIGHTS ETHICS
John Locke (1632-1704)
people have "natural" rights - life, liberty, the property generated by one's labor
and the pursuit of happiness.
Locke viewed rights as entitlements that prevent other people from meddling in
other's lives - these Liberty, or negative rights, place duties on other people not to
interfere with one's life
our duties to other people arise from our moral need to respect their rights.
A.I. Melden (1910-1991) argued that having moral rights presupposes the capacity to
show concern for others and to be accountable within a moral community.
Melden called these Welfare, or positive, rights. These are the rights we each have
to the community benefits needed for living a minimally decent life.
3.) DUTY ETHICS
" ... there are duties ... which ought to be performed even though doing so may
not always produce the most good." M&S p.33
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) - Four Types of Duties:

Perfect duties to oneself - perfect duties are things that must be done
Perfect duties to others
Imperfect duties to oneself - imperfect duties are things that should be done
Imperfect duties to others
First and foremost, Kant said we have a duty to show respect for people. People
deserve this respect because they have inherent worth as human beings who have
the capacity to make moral judgments and to act with good will. This capacity
gives them "human dignity."
We must not use people as means to our own ends.
To Kant good will is the only unconditional good.
Duties to ourselves are also fundamental - they engender integrity and self respect.
Duties must be universalizable - they must apply to everyone. They must be
categorical imperatives - that is they apply without qualifications or attached
conditions.
Moral imperatives require us to do certain things whether we want to or not. It is our
duty whether it makes us happy or not.
Prima Facie Duties - are duties that have conditions that can lead to exceptions.
John Rawls extended duty ethics on the basis of two imperatives:
1.) each person is entitled to the most extensive amount of liberty compatible with an
equal amount for others
2.) differences in social power and economic benefits are justified only when they are
likely to benefit everyone, including members of the most disadvantaged groups.
4.) UTILITARIANISM - Utility is the overall balance of good over bad. John Stuart
Mill (1806-1873) was the major proponent of this ethical theory.
Produce the most good for the most people, giving equal consideration to everyone affected
Welfare is a type of utility (so are safety, health)
"Utilitarianism holds that we ought always to produce the most utility, taking into
equal account everyone affected by our actions." M&S p.33
"The standard of right conduct is maximization of goodness." M&S p.35
"Act- Utilitarianism says we should focus on individual actions, rather than
general rules. An act is right if it is likely to produce the most good for the most
people involved in the particular situation." M&S p.35
"Rule- Utilitarianism regards moral rules as primary we ought always to on
those rules that if generally followed would produce the most good for the most
people." Rule utilitarianism is designed to close the loopholes which are part of act
utilitarianism by discounting the pleasure of an individual when compare to a group.
"Mill believed that happiness is the only intrinsic good .. all other good things are
instrumental goods in that they provide means for happiness." M&S p.35

"One kind of pleasure is preferable to another if the majority of people who have
experienced both kinds favor it." M&S p.35
CASE STUDY
Engineer A is employed by a software company and is involved in the design
of specialized software in connection with the operations of facilities
affecting the public health and safety (i.e., nuclear, air quality control, water
quality control). As the part of the design of a particular software system,
Engineer A conducts extensive testing and although the tests demonstrate
that the software is safe to use under existing standards, Engineer A is
aware of new draft standards that are about to be released by a standard
setting organization-standards which the newly designed software may not
meet. Testing is extremely costly and the company s clients are eager to
begin to move forward. The software company is eager to satisfy its clients,
protect the software companys finances, and protect existing jobs; but at
the same time, the management of the software company wants to be sure
that the software is safe to use.
A series of tests proposed by Engineer A will likely result in a decision
whether to move forward with the use of the software. The tests are costly
and will delay the use of the software by at least six months, which will put
the company at a competitive disadvantage and cost the company a
significant amount of money. Also, delaying implementation will mean the
state public service commission utility rates will rise significantly during this
time. The company requests Engineer A s recommendation concerning the
need for additional software testing.
Analyze the case
Utilitarianism Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public Do the
testing for the new standards. This is the most good for the most people? Could do a
cost-benefit analysis. Analyze what costs there will be to the company if there is a
software failure vs. costs of the tests
Rights and duty ethics Public has a right to exposure to safe systems, not to be injured,
etc. Engineer has a right to provide an opinion on such an important matter Engineer
has a duty to provide safe systems Engineer has a duty to be loyal to company (try to
avoid layoffs, etc)
Virtue ethics Competence engineers competence in coming up with a less expensive
test Honesty engineers honesty in whether meet new standards, old standards
Courage engineers courage to make a tough decision (like to do the expensive tests)

Loyalty engineers loyalty to the company to protect them from litigation by testing for
new standards