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Engineering Ethics: An Introduction

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1 Engineering Ethics: An Introduction
A Lecture in SEMFILA

2 Defining Engineering Ethics
The word ethics has several distinct but related meanings. We rely on context to indicate which meaning is intended.

3 Defining Engineering Ethics
In one sense, ethics is synonymous with morality#. Here, ethics refers to moral* values+ that are sound or reasonable, actions or policies that are morally required (right), morally permissible (all right), or otherwise morally desirable (good). *of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior #doctrine or system of moral conduct +relative worth, utility, or importance

4 Defining Engineering Ethics
Accordingly, engineering ethics consists of the responsibilities and rights that ought to be endorsed by those engaged in engineering, and also of desirable ideals and personal commitments in engineering.

5 Defining Engineering Ethics
In a second sense, ethics is the activity (and field) of studying morality; it is an inquiry into ethics as described in the first sense. It studies which actions, goals, principles, policies, and laws are morally justified.

6 Defining Engineering Ethics
Using this sense, engineering ethics is the study of the decisions, policies, and values that are morally desirable in engineering practice and research.

7 What is morality? Engineering ethics studies moral values in engineering, but what are moral values? What is morality? Morality is not easily encapsulated in a single definition.

8 What is morality? Morality is about reasons centered in respect for other people as well as for ourselves, reasons that involve caring for their good as well as our own. Moral reasons, for instance, involve respecting persons by being fair and just with them, respecting their rights, keeping promises, avoiding unnecessary offense and pain to them, and avoiding cheating and dishonesty.

9 What is morality? Moral reasons also concern caring for others by sometimes being willing to help them (especially when they are in distress), showing gratitude for favors, and empathizing with their suffering. In addition, moral reasons extend to concern for minimizing suffering to animals and damage to the environment.

10 Ethics and Morality Often, the terms “ethics” and “morality” are used interchangeably. If there is a subtle difference between the two terms, it is as follows: The term “ethics” is used with a more formalized statement of moral precepts*, especially as these precepts are stated in ethical codes. Thus, it is more common to refer to “professional ethics” than “professional morality”. *a command or principle intended especially as a general rule of action

11 Three Types of Ethics or Morality
Common Morality Personal Morality Professional Ethics

12 Common Morality It is the set of moral beliefs shared by almost everyone. It is the basis, or at least the reference point, for the other two types of morality. When we think of ethics or morality, we usually think of such precepts as that it is wrong to murder, lie, cheat, steal, break promises, harm others physically, and so forth.

13 Common Morality Three characteristics describe common morality.
First, many of the precepts of common morality are negative. According to some moralists, common morality is designed primarily to protect individuals from various types of violations or invasions of their personhood by others.

14 Common Morality Three characteristics describe common morality.
Second, although common morality on what we might call the “ground floor” is primarily negative, it does contain a positive or aspirational component in such precepts as “prevent killing”, “prevent deceit”, “prevent cheating”, etc. It might also include even more clearly positive precepts, such as “help the needy”, “promote human happiness”, and “protect the natural environment”.

15 Common Morality Three characteristics describe common morality.
Third, common morality makes a distinction between an evaluation of a person’s actions and an evaluation of his intention. An evaluation of action is based on an application of the types of moral precepts mentioned, but an evaluation of the person himself is based on intention.

16 Common Morality Three characteristics describe common morality.
For example, if a driver kills a pedestrian accidentally, the driver may be charged with manslaughter (or nothing), but not murder. The pedestrian is just as dead as if he had been murdered, but the driver’s intention was not to kill him, and the law treats the driver differently, as long as he was not reckless. The result is the same, but the intent is different.

17 Common Morality Three characteristics describe common morality.
As another example, if you convey false information to another person with the intent to deceive, you are lying. If you convey the false information because you do not know any better, you are not lying and not usually as morally culpable. Again, the result is the same (the person is misled), but the intent is different.

18 Personal Morality Personal ethics or personal morality is the set of moral beliefs that a person holds. For most of us, our personal moral beliefs closely parallel the precepts of common morality. We believe that murder, lying, cheating and stealing are wrong.

19 Personal Morality Personal ethics or personal morality is the set of moral beliefs that a person holds. However, our personal moral beliefs may differ from common morality in some areas. Thus, we may oppose stem cell research, even though common morality may not be clear on the issue. Common morality may be unclear at least partially because the issue did not arise until scientific advancement made stem cell research possible and ordinary people have yet to identify decisive arguments.

20 Professional Ethics It is the set of standards adopted by professionals insofar as they view themselves acting as professionals. Every profession has its professional ethics: medicine, law, architecture, pharmacy, etc. Engineering ethics is that set of ethical standards that applies to the profession of engineering.

21 Professional Ethics There are several important characteristics of professional ethics. First, professional ethics is usually stated in a formal code. Thus, professional societies usually have codes of ethics, referred to as “code of professional responsibility”, “code of professional conduct”, and the like.

22 Professional Ethics There are several important characteristics of professional ethics. Second, the professional codes of ethics of a given profession focus on the issues that are important in that profession. Third, when one is in a professional relationship, professional ethics is supposed to take precedence over personal morality – at least ordinarily.

23 Professional Ethics A complication occurs when the professional’s personal morality and professional ethics conflict. For example, some pharmacists in the US object to filling prescriptions for contraceptives for unmarried women because of their moral beliefs hold that sex outside of marriage is wrong. The code of the American Pharmaceutical Association makes no provision for refusing to fill a prescription on the basis of an objection from one’s personal moral beliefs.

24 Professional Ethics A complication occurs when the professional’s personal morality and professional ethics conflict. In fact, the code of the American Pharmaceutical Association mandates honoring the autonomy of the client. Nevertheless, some pharmacists have put their personal morality ahead of their professional obligations.

25 Professional Ethics There are several important characteristics of professional ethics. Fourth, professional ethics sometimes differs from personal morality in its degree of restriction of personal conduct. Sometimes, professional ethics is more restrictive than personal morality, and sometimes it is less restrictive.

26 Professional Ethics Suppose engineer Joe refuses to design military hardware because he believes war is immoral. Engineering codes do not prohibit engineers from designing military hardware, so this refusal is based on personal ethics and not on professional ethics. Here, Joe’s personal ethics is more restrictive than her professional ethics.

27 Professional Ethics On the other hand, suppose civil engineer Jack refuses to participate in the design of a project that he believes will be contrary to the principles of sustainable development, which are set out in the code of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He may not personally believe these guidelines are correct, but he might (correctly) believe he is obligated to follow them in his professional work because they are stated in the code of ethics. In this case, Jack’s professional ethics is more restrictive than his personal ethics.

28 Professional Ethics There are several important characteristics of professional ethics. Fifth, professional ethics, like ethics in general, has a negative and a positive dimension. Indeed, being ethical has two aspects: preventing and avoiding evil (“the negative face”) doing or promoting good (“the positive face”)

29 Professional Ethics Professionals have both an obligation not to harm their clients, patients, and employers, and an obligation to contribute to their well-being. The negative aspect of professional ethics is oriented toward the prevention of professional malpractice and harm to the public. This can be called “preventive ethics”.

30 Professional Ethics Professionals also have an obligation to use their knowledge and expertise to promote the public good. This may be referred to as “aspirational ethics” because it encourages aspirations or ideals in professionals to promote the welfare of the public.

31 Professional Ethics Professional ethics has a number of distinct characteristics, many of which serve to differentiate it from personal ethics and common morality. It is usually stated (in part) in a code of ethics. It focuses on issues that are important in a given profession. It often takes precedence over personal morality when a professional is in his professional capacity.

32 Professional Ethics Professional ethics has a number of distinct characteristics, many of which serve to differentiate it from personal ethics and common morality. It sometimes differs from personal morality in its degree of restriction of personal conduct.

33 Professional Ethics Professional ethics can be usefully divided into
those precepts that aim at preventing professional misconduct and engineering disasters (preventive ethics), and those positive ideals oriented toward producing a better life for humankind through technology (aspirational ethics).

34 Engineering Ethics Engineering ethics refers to professional ethics, not one’s personal ethics or what is often called common morality. To fully appreciate professional ethics, we must define what is meant by a profession.

35 Engineering as a Profession
We have been speaking of engineering as a profession, but what exactly is a profession? In a broad sense, a profession is any occupation that provides a means by which to earn a living. In a narrower sense, professions are those forms of work involving advanced expertise, self-regulation, and concerted service to the public good.

36 Advanced Expertise Professions require sophisticated skills (knowing-how) and theoretical knowledge (knowing-why) in exercising judgment that is not entirely routine or susceptible to mechanization.

37 Advanced Expertise Preparation to engage in the work typically requires extensive formal education, including technical studies in one or more areas of systematic knowledge as well as some broader studies in the liberal arts (humanities, sciences, arts). Generally, continuing education and updating knowledge are also required.

38 Self-Regulation Well-established societies of professionals are allowed by the public to play a major role in setting standards for admission to the profession, drafting codes of ethics, enforcing standards of conduct, and representing the profession before the public and the government. Often, this is referred to as the “autonomy of the profession”, which forms the basis for individual professionals to exercise autonomous professional judgment in their work.

39 Public Good The occupation serves some important public good, or aspect of public good, and it does so by making a concerted effort to maintain high ethical standards throughout the profession. For example, medicine is directed toward promoting health, law toward protecting the public’s legal rights, and engineering toward technological solutions to problems concerning the public’s well-being, safety, and health.

40 Are professionals elitists?
Some critics argue that the attempt to distinguish professions from other forms of work is an elitist attempt to elevate the prestige and income of certain group of workers. Innumerable forms of work contribute to the public good, even though they do not require advanced expertise: for example, hair cutting, garbage collection, professional sports, etc.

41 Are professionals elitists?
However, professionalism should not be primarily about social status. The concerted efforts to maintain high standards of moral responsibility, together with a sophisticated level of required skill and the requisite autonomy to do so, warrants the recognition traditionally associated with the word “profession”. With great privilege comes great responsibility.

42 Professionalism Running through various accounts of professionalism is the idea that ethical commitment, or at least a claim to it, is crucial to a claim to be a professional. This means that professional ethics is central to the idea of professionalism.

43 The Negative Face of Engineering Ethics: Preventive Ethics
Preventive ethics is commonly formulated in rules, and these rules are usually stated in codes of ethics. These codes of ethics are primarily sets of rules, and these rules are for the most part negative in character. The rules are often in the form of prohibitions, or statements that probably should be understood primarily as prohibitions.

44 Why so negative? First, common sense and common morality support the idea that the first duty of moral agents, including professionals, is not to harm others – not to murder, lie, cheat, or steal, for example. Before engineers have an obligation to do good, they have an obligation to do no harm.

45 Why so negative? Second, the codes are formulated in terms of rules that can be enforced, and it is easier to enforce negative rules than positive rules. A rule that states “avoid undisclosed conflicts of interest” is relatively easy to enforce, in comparison with a rule that states “hold paramount the welfare of the public”.

46 Why so negative? Third, the negative orientation of engineering ethics is the influence of what are often called “disaster cases”, which are incidents that results, or could have resulted, in loss of life or harm due to technology.

47 The Positive Face of Engineering: Aspirational Ethics
Engineers do not choose engineering as a career in order to prevent disasters and avoid professional misconduct. To be sure, many engineering students desire the financial rewards and social position that an engineering career promises, and this is legitimate.

48 The Positive Face of Engineering: Aspirational Ethics
Engineering students are also attracted by the prospect of making a difference in the world, and doing so in a positive way. They are excited by projects that alleviate human drudgery through labor-saving devices, eliminate disease by providing clean water and sanitation, develop new medical devices that save lives, create automobiles that run on less fuel and are less polluting, and preserve the environment with recyclable products.

49 The Positive Face of Engineering: Aspirational Ethics
Personal commitments to ideals can add an important new and positive dimension to engineering ethics.

50 The Positive Face of Engineering: Aspirational Ethics
In elaborating on aspirational ethics, one can think of those professional qualities that enable one to be more effective in promoting human welfare.

51 The Positive Face of Engineering: Aspirational Ethics
Promoting the welfare of the public can be done in many different ways, as for instance, designing a new energy-saving device in the course of one’s ordinary employment, or using one’s vacation time to design and help install a water purification system in an underdeveloped country.

52 The Positive Face of Engineering: Aspirational Ethics
Let us call the more extreme and altruistic examples of aspirational ethics as “good works” and the more ordinary and mundane examples as “ordinary positive engineering”. Although the division between the two is not always sharp, the distinction is useful.

53 Good Works These refer to the more outstanding and altruistic examples of aspirational ethics – those that often involve an element of self-sacrifice. Good works are exemplary actions and commendable conduct that go beyond the basic requirements associated with a particular social role and beyond what is professionally required.

54 Good Works Example Engineering students from the University of Arizona chapter of Engineers Without Borders are working on a water supply and purification project in the village of Mafi Zongo, Ghana, West Africa. The project will supply 30 or more villages, with approximately 10,000 people, with safe drinking water.

55 Ordinary Positive Engineering
Most examples of aspirational ethics do not all into the category of good works. They are done in the course of one’s job, and they do not involve any heroism or self-sacrifice. Specifically, they consist of actions that usually involve a more conscious and creative attempt to do something that contributes to human welfare.

56 Ordinary Positive Engineering Example
Students in a senior design course at Texas A&M University (TAMU) decided to build an auditory visual tracker for use in evaluating the training of visual skills in children with disabilities. The engineering students met the children for whom the equipment was being designed, and this encounter motivated the students that they worked overtime to complete the project. At the end of the project, they got to see the children use the tracker.

57 Aspirational Ethics and Professional Character: The Good Engineer
Two features of aspirational ethics are important: First, the more positive aspect of engineering ethics has a motivational element that is not present in the same way in preventive ethics. Second, there is a discretionary element in aspirational ethics: an engineer has a considerable degree of freedom in how he or she promotes public welfare.

58 Aspirational Ethics and Professional Character: The Good Engineer
In aspirational ethics, instead of asking “what kind of rules are important in directing the more positive and aspirational elements of engineering work?”, one would ponder, “what type of person, professionally speaking, will be most likely to promote the welfare of the public through his or her engineering work?”

59 Aspirational Ethics and Professional Character: The Good Engineer
Let us use the term “professional character” to refer to those character traits that serve to define the kind of person one is, professionally speaking. The “good engineer” is the engineer who has those traits of professional character that make him or her the best or ideal engineer.

60 Aspirational Ethics and Professional Character: The Good Engineer
Furthermore, let us use the term “professional character portrait” to refer to the set of character traits that would make an engineer a good engineer, and especially an effective practitioner of aspirational ethics.

61 Professional Character Portrait of a Good Engineer
Professional Pride Social awareness Environmental consciousness

62 Professional Pride This refers in particular to pride in technical excellence. If an engineer wants his/her work as a professional to contribute to public welfare, the first thing he/she must do is to be sure that her professional expertise is at the highest possible level.

63 Professional Pride Professional expertise in engineering includes not only the obvious proficiencies in mathematics, physics, and engineering science, but also those capacities and sensitivities that only come with a certain level of experience.

64 Social Awareness This refers to an awareness of the way in which technology both affects (influences) and is affected (influenced) by the larger social environment. For example, technology can be used by grassroots movements, like what protesters do in China and bloggers do in the United States. On the other hand, the desire by the elite, for instance, to “deskill” labor drives the introduction of automation technology.

65 Social Awareness In any case, engineers are often called on to make design decisions that are not socially neutral. This often requires sensitivities and commitments that cannot be incorporated into rules. Thus, social awareness is an important aspect of a professional character that will take seriously the obligation to promote public welfare through professional work.

66 Environmental Consciousness
Environmental issues will increasingly play a crucial role in almost all aspects of engineering. Human welfare will be seen as integral to preserving the integrity of the natural environment that supports human and all other forms of life.

67 References The information contained in this Powerpoint lecture is excerpted and derived from: 1) Engineering Ethics, 4th Edition (2008), by Charles Harris, Michael Pritchard and Michael Rabins 2) Introduction to Engineering Ethics, 2nd Edition (2009), by Roland Schinzinger and Mike Martin 3)

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