Engineering Ethics

University e-Prep Course by NTU
Now Available in SF@NS Learning Experience Platform
Main Ideas

CHAPTER ONE: Engineering Ethics: Making the Case

  • Focuses on the ethical challenges of engineers as professionals.
  • Ethical commitment is central to most accounts of professionalism, including engineering.
  • The codes of ethics of professional engineering societies are important resources for studying engineering ethics, but they, too, must be critically evaluated.
  • Possible conflicts between professional ethics, personal ethics, and common morality raise important moral questions.
  • In addition to concern about preventing disasters and professional misconduct, engineering ethics is also concerned with promoting a better life through the development and use of technology.

CHAPTER TWO: A Practical Ethics Toolkit

  • professionals are problem solvers and ethical problems are one type of problem that they often face. Practical ethics provides a series of techniques for resolving ethical problems.
  • The first task of practical ethics is to analyze an ethical problem into its factual, conceptual, and application components.
  • Two techniques that are often useful in ethical problem solving are line drawing and finding creative middle way solutions.
  • Often, resolving ethical problems in engineering requires more than an appeal to professional codes and standards of practice. An appeal to common morality is necessary. Common morality can be formulated in several ways and has some generally accepted structural components.
  • Common morality can be modeled in several ways, two of which are especially important. These models can be useful in resolving some practical ethical problems.
  • Several widely recognized tests or application procedures exist for both of the models for common morality. They can be useful tools in applying the two models, especially with regard to social issues.

CHAPTER THREE: Responsibility in Engineering

  • Responsibility has to do with accountability, both for what one does in the present and future and for what one has done in the past.
  • The obligation-responsibilities of engineers require not only adhering to regulatory norms and standard practices of engineering but also satisfying the standard of reasonable care.
  • Beyond this, “good works” are both possible and desirable.
  • Engineers can expect to be held accountable, if not legally liable, for inten-tonally, negligently, and recklessly caused harms.
  • Responsible engineering practice requires good judgment, not simply following algorithms.
  • A good test of engineering responsibility is the question: “What does an engineer do when no one is looking?” This makes evident the importance of trust in the work of engineers.

CHAPTER FOUR: The Social and Value Dimensions of Technology

  • Many engineers and engineering students find it difficult to appreciate the social dimension of technology. The social embeddedness of technology manifests itself in the way that technology affects individuals and particular practices and the way social values can affect technology.
  • Technology can also raise questions about social policy. Two examples are the effect of information technology on privacy and intellectual property.
  • Technological determinism is the belief that technology has a lik of its own and cannot be controlled by humans.
  • Technological optimism is the belief that the effects of technology on humans are by and large good.
  • Technological pessimism is the belief that technology, although beneficial, has many bad effects on society and individuals.
  • Among the undesirable effects of technology identified by technological pessimists are the diminution of human freedom, the elimination of many complex relationships that make human life meaningful, and the quantification and standardization of the natural world.
  • Engineers should develop a critical attitude toward technology that recognizes both technology’s desirable and undesirable aspects. Engineers with this attitude can promote democratic deliberation about technology policy and better recognize the value issues that arise in design.

CHAPTER FIVE: Trust and Reliability

  • This chapter focuses on issues regarding the importance of trustworthiness in engineers: honesty, confidentiality, intellectual property, expert witnessing, public communication, and conflicts of interest. • Forms of dishonesty include lying, deliberate deception, withholding information, and failure to seek out the truth.
  • Dishonesty in engineering research and testing includes plagiarism and the falsification and fabrication of data.
  • Engineers are expected to respect professional confidentiality in their work.
  • Integrity in expert testimony requires not only truthfulness but also adequate background and preparation in the areas requiring expertise.
  • Conflicts of interest are especially problematic because they threaten to compromise professional judgment.

CHAPTER SIX: Risk and Liability in Engineering

  • For engineers and risk experts, risk is the product of the likelihood and magnitude of harm.
  • Engineers and risk experts have traditionally identified harms and benefits with factors that are relatively easily quantified, such as economic losses or the number of human lives lost.
  • In a new version of the way engineers and risk experts deal with risk, the “capabilities” approach focuses on the effects of risks and disasters on the capabilities of people to live the kinds of lives they value.
  • The public conceptualizes risk in a different way from engineers and risk experts, taking account of such factors as free and informed consent to risk and whether risk is justly distributed.
  • Government regulators have a still different approach to risk because they place more weight on avoiding harm to the public than producing good.
  • Engineers have techniques for estimating the causes and likelihood of harm, but their effectiveness is limited.
  • Engineers must protect themselves, their clients, and their employers from unjust liability for harm while also protecting the public from risk.

CHAPTER SEVEN: Engineers in Organizations

  • Communication and culture are vital components within the organization. Employees should understand communication channels and cultural norms within the organization.
  • Value emphasizes what others get from our efforts and values emphasize who we are. Value can be created and developed through organizational innovation and hard work.
  • Employees should take advantage of organizational resources in order to enhance their own integrity and independence.
  • Organizational and management practices may be unchanged for years, which can result in blind spots, or obstacles to ethical decision making. Understanding the obstacles and remedies for these obstacles can improve the organization’s communication and ethical decision making.
  • Many organizations hire an ethics and compliance officer to study inappropriate policies and procedures and to assist employees in appropriate communication and daily ethical choices at work.
  • Engineers and managers have different perspectives, both legitimate, and it is useful to distinguish between decisions that should be made by managers, or from a management perspective, and decisions that should be made by engineers, or from an engineering perspective.
  • There will be differences of opinion within the organization between engineers themselves and between engineers and management. Careful verbal and written communication needs to be utilized to work through disagreements.
  • Whistleblowing sometimes becomes a necessary option for an employee when other avenues of communication fail. An employee should explore numerous ways of solving an organizational problem before whistleblowing. However, new federal regulations are in place to assist employees who believe they have exhausted all other means of solving the workplace problem.

CHAPTER Eight: Engineers and the Environment

  • Engineering codes and environmental laws mandate a concern for the environment, but there is still considerable controversy about the nature and extent of professional or legal obligations to the environment.
  • Several environmental writers were important in initiating the concern for the environment, and their ideas are still influential.
  • Central to environmental philosophy are concepts such as anthropocentrism, nonanthropocentrism, obligations to future generations, and environmental justice.
  • Business responses to environmental regulations vary from subminimal to progressive. Business responses can go beyond the law in several ways.
  • A major aspect of the engineering response to the environmental challenge is the pursuit of sustainability, especially by way of Life Cycle Analysis.
  • The philosophy of environmental stewardship provides a basis for the professional obligation to the environment. To implement it effectively, engineers should have the right to professional dissent from organizational actions that oppose environmentalism.

CHAPTER NINE: Engineering in the Global Context

  • Some progress has been made in establishing international technical standards. Creating a universal concept of professionalism would facilitate progress in developing international standards of conduct.
  • Economic, cultural, and social differences between countries sometimes produce “boundary-crossing problems” for engineers. Solutions to these problems must avoid absolutism and relativism and should find a way between moral rigorism and moral laxism.
  • Applying the standards of one’s own country without modification or uncritically adopting the standards of the host country in which one is working are rarely satisfactory solutions to the moral dilemmas that arise in international engineering.
  • Adaptations of the methods and standards for resolving ethical problems dis-cussed in Chapter 2 can make them more applicable to problems encountered in the international arena. Solutions involving creative middle ways are often particularly useful.
  • Engineering work in the international arena can raise many ethical issues, including exploitation, bribery, extortion, grease payments, nepotism, excessive gifts, paternalism, and paying taxes in a country where taxes are negotiable.
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