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Presentation on theme: "UNDERSTANDING ETHICS THROUGH CULTURE: AN OVERREVIEW OF ETHICAL THEORIES AND VALUES (adapted from Dr. Torey Nalbone’s ENGR 1201 course materials)"— Presentation transcript:


2 Ethical Theories (Adapted from Charles B. Fledderman, Engineering Ethics, 2 nd Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice-Hall, 2004)

3 Utilitarianism  Actions are good if they maximize human well- being.  Focus is the good of society rather than that of particular individual. Example: construction of public works Example: national nuclear-waste repository  Basis of cost-benefit and risk-benefit analysis  Objections to utilitarianism: Seeking the good for the many may be very detrimental to some individuals Depends upon knowledge of knowing what actions lead to the greatest public good, but this often requires educated guesswork.

4 Cost-benefit analysis  Benefits and costs (of a project, procedure, policy, actions, etc.) are assessed, and only those projects with the highest ratio of benefits to cost are implemented.  Assessment of costs may be relatively straightforward, but assessment of benefits may not, especially when the benefits come at the expense of something whose value cannot be quantified. Example: cellular-telephone towers in scenic areas; immigration laws; healthcare legislation  Must consider as well who reaps the benefits and who pays the costs. Example: nuclear power plants sending electrical power over long distances to cities; immigration laws; healthcare legislation

5 Duty Ethics and Rights Ethics  Actions are good if they respect the rights of the individual. Benefits to society as a whole are not the only moral consideration.  Duty ethics: advocated by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Ethical actions are those that can be enumerated in a list of duties that express respect for persons as individuals and as autonomous moral agents:  Be honest  Do not cause suffering to others  Be fair  Rights ethics: advocated by John Locke (1632-1704) Persons have fundamental, inherent rights that must be respected. US Declaration of Independence contains a forthright statement of rights ethics.

6 Duty Ethics and Rights Ethics  Duty and rights ethics have difficulties that must be recognized. Rights of one group may conflict with those of another. How are these to be prioritized? Application of duty and rights ethics does not always lead to the good for society as a whole.  Examples: Recent decision by US Supreme Court in Kelo vs. New London Restrictions on indoor smoking Community restrictions on individuals’ use of their land or property Affordable Care Act

7 Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005)  involving the use of eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another to further economic development.  The case arose from the condemnation by New London, Connecticut, of privately owned real property so that it could be used as part of a comprehensive redevelopment plan which promised 3,169 new jobs and $1.2 million a year in tax revenues.  The Court held in a 5–4 decision that the general benefits a community enjoyed from economic growth qualified such redevelopment plans as a permissible "public use" under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.  The City eventually did agreed to at least move Kelo's house to a new location and to pay substantial additional compensation to other homeowners.  The redeveloper was unable to obtain financing and had to abandon the redevelopment project, leaving the land as an empty lot. With no tax revenue for the City.

8 Virtue Ethics  Virtue ethics is concerned with what kind of people we should be.  Virtue ethics focuses on character: Virtues:  Responsibility  Honesty  Competence  Loyalty  Reliability Vices:  Dishonesty  Disloyalty  Laziness  Unreliability

9 Virtue Ethics  Virtue ethics may not appear at first to be particularly applicable to business or professional decisions since they deal with individual character traits. Persons can be loyal and honest; can these be characteristics of corporations? Can (or should) businesses and corporations be moral agents? There have been cases in which persons who exhibited personal virtue were implicated in evil corporate actions. It appears that the presence of virtuous persons in an organization does not guarantee that the actions of that organization will be ethically defensible.

10 What theory(ies) should be applied?  Example: a chemical plant near a city discharging hazardous waste into groundwater. Utilitarianism: May be unethical, since this may cause harm to the community as a whole; May be be ethical, since the benefits to the community (employment, retail sales, tax base) outweigh the risks. Duty and rights ethics: Unethical, since it is a duty not to harm others and because others have a right to not be harmed Virtue ethics: Unethical, because what kind of a person would knowingly allow harm to others?

11 What theory(ies) should be applied?  Example: a national nuclear waste repository Utilitarianism: Ethical; the benefits to society of nuclear technology (nuclear medicine, electrical power from nuclear sources) justify constructing this repository. Duty and rights ethics: Unethical (?); cannot put at risk those who live near routes where nuclear wastes will be transported. Virtue ethics: Must ask - Would I be a moral individual if I allow high- level nuclear wastes generated for my benefit to be transported through someone else’s community?

12 Codes of Ethics for Engineers  Example: NSPE Code of Ethics Fundamental canons: That Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall: 1. Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public. 2. Perform services only in areas of their competence. 3. Issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner. 4. Act for each employer or client as faithful agents of trustees. 5. Avoid deceptive acts. 6. Conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of the profession.

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