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Engineering Ethics

What is engineering ethics? Engineering ethics is defined as: 1.

The study of moral issues and decisions confronting individuals and organizations involved in engineering and The study of related questions about moral conduct, character, ideals and relationships of peoples and organizations involved in technological development Martin and Schinzinger, Ethics in Engineering Moral values. What are moral values? Dictionaries tell us that morality is about right and wrong, good and bad values and what ought to be done. But such definitions are incomplete, for these words also have non moral meanings. So we can talk about moral right and wrong, moral good and bad, moral values, and what morally ought to be done. But this again is not especially illuminating as it is circular definition that uses the word we are trying to define! Therefore, morality is not easy to define. We can give examples of moral values, but the moment we try to provide a comprehensive definition of morality we are entering into ethical theory, theory about morality. Examples: (NOTE: Introduce the three cases)


If we say morality consists in promoting the most good, we are invoking an ethical theory called utilitarianism. If we say that morality is about human rights, we invoke rights ethics. If we say that morality is about good character, we might be invoking virtue ethics.

Let us at the moment say that:

Morality concerns respect for persons, both others and our-selves. Involves being fair and just, meeting obligations and respecting rights, and not causing unnecessary harm by dishonesty and cruelty. Involves ideas of character, such as integrity, gratitude and willingness to help people in severe distress. And it implies minimizing suffering to animals and damage to the environment. ENGINEERING ETHICS- CASES, CASES, CASES

1) Using cases should be central in the teaching of engineering ethics. REASONS: Engineers love cases Engineers are interested in real-world problems, in the specific, the concrete, and the practical.

2) Expose students to cases helps them appreciate the importance and value of ethical methodology in thinking about ethical issues. STEPS: What is going on in a case What are the known facts and what factual questions remain unanswered Are there any future events whose outcome is important in evaluating the case Are there concepts e.g. safe or clean that are especially important to define in trying to resolve the issues

HELPS students to improve their natural analytical talents into a new area i.e. the area of moral deliberation. Engineering ethics is a branch of practical ethics; it is a problem solving discipline. The course provides techniques that will help you carefully think through moral problems No technique can make moral problem solving easy or painless. Techniques will show that there can be method and structure in moral deliberation, but that there are NO algorithms.

A Search For Solutions Engineer A is requested to review and sign and seal a set of drawings prepared by another design professional not under the engineer's direct personal supervision. Should he sign and seal the drawing? Engineer B is requested to serve as an expert witness during litigation involving a project that his firm performed services for another party involved in the same litigation. Is this acceptable conduct? Engineer C learns that his employer is violating environmental regulations relating to acceptable toxicity levels of waste materials being released by the employer's industrial facility. Does he report this fact to the public authorities or the media? Engineer D, pursuing her Ph.D., deliberately omits certain information from her doctoral thesis because it might raise doubts concerning certain conclusions in her theory. Can she ethically do this? These are just few of the many ethical issues constantly confronting engineers on a daily basis. But where do engineers look to for guidance in determining the most appropriate course of action to follow in the above cited cases?

Law Colleagues, family members or friends .. CODE OF ETHICS (NSPE, IEEE, ASME, ETEK) Professional codes represent the understanding of the professional community about the standards that should govern their conduct. Codes, however, are not complete, above criticism or there are no questions as to how the codes apply to a particular situation. They are merely starting point for discussion of most issues in engineering ethics. We are going to discuss what the codes say about a topic and when appropriate suggest where the codes may be inconsistent, unclear or in a need of modification

In addition to CODE OF ETHICS there are some other mechanisms that have been established by some professional bodies to assist further on providing precise guidance on specific questions that arise. These are Boards of Ethical Review bodies. Questions on interpreting the Code of Ethics in cases involving actual factual situations are common.

Changes in the Code of Ethics

Code of Ethics has always been viewed as dynamic documents reflecting changes in engineering practice. While some of the modifications to the Codes have come easily, reflecting a general consensus of opinion within the profession other changes have come as a result of conflict. For example in the mid-1980s during the liability insurance crisis, many engineer who had been performing professional services in connection with hazardous waste, pollution and other related services saw their professional liability insurance policies exclude these areas of practice from policy coverage. Professional liability insurance to protect against claims relating to these risks became impossible to obtain. In response, many engineers sought to protect their personal and professional resources by employing indemnification provisions in their contracts with clients, whereby clients would agree to "hold the engineer harmless" for the ordinary negligence by the engineer. This approach was in direct conflict with then Section III.8.of the NSPE Code which stated: "Engineers shall accept personal responsibility for their professional activities." After careful review and deliberation and in response to the growing need for adequate procedures to safeguard engineers against professional liability exposure, the NSPE Board of Directors agreed to modify Code section state: Engineers shall accept personal responsibility for their professional activities; provided, however, that Engineers may seek indemnification from professional services arising out of their practice for other than gross negligence, where the Engineer's interests cannot otherwise be protected." This change reflects the fact that the Code is not a static document but a living document reflecting alternations in circumstances and practice. A Code must adapt with the times; otherwise it risks loses its legitimacy and acceptance. On the other side of the coin, there have been issues that have been addressed by the NSPE Code where NSPE was required as a matter of law to modify the Code to comply with the law. During the 1970s, the codes of ethics of several professions were challenged by the federal government as constituting an "agreement in restraint of trade" and therefore violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Following litigation national architectural and engineering groups including NSPE, the NSPE Code as well as the codes of other groups were modified to remove provisions (1) prohibiting competitive bidding for engineering services and (2) supplanting of one engineer by another. In addition, NSPE agreed with federal antitrust officials to eliminate provisions from the NSPE Code that made it unethical to engage in certain types of promotional advertising.

Conclusion Clearly, engineering ethics is an issue that goes to the heart of engineering practice. It reflects the customs, habits, and values of engineering as a profession and reflects the time-tested experience, seasoning and training of practicing engineers. In some senses, a code is a "timeline" for the profession because it mirrors the conventions, routines and patterns of the profession but shifts as those conventions, routines and patterns change. As the profession of engineering grows in stature within our society, the engineering and engineers will be increasingly examined and scrutinized by the public, the media, the government and the profession it-self on moral and ethical questions. Having a thoughtfully developed code of ethics along with members that adhere to that code will be vitally useful in that process. (NOTE: Introduce the codes for IEEE, NSPE and ETEK)

S. ROSSIDES 2005 Engineering_Ethics_Introduction.doc