Engineering Ethics Wentworth Institute of Technology Elec163 Electronic Design I Professor Tim Johnson
What is Engineering Ethics? It’s the study of a specific type of behavior: How people make decisions about their own actions and How their choices are influenced by Their moral conduct Their character Their ideals …when confronted with a situation involving other people.
What it’s Not Not reducible to: –Self interest –Law –Religion Although some law attempt to codify good conduct, and some religions revolve around ethics.
Dictionary Definition: Ethics 1.The principles of honor and morality. 2.Accepted rules of conduct. 3.The moral principles of an individual You act ethically when you… Behave in accordance with accepted principles of conduct.
Theories on Ethics Utilitarianism –The best course of action does the most good for the most people. Duty-based morality –Any action taken should not violate the obligations you have to others. Rights-based morality –Any action taken doesn’t violate another’s rights Virtue-based morality –Any action taken is motivated by attitudes, aspirations, and ideals.
Observations on Theories Utilitarianism –The end justifies the means. –You become a do-gooder Duty-based morality –Obligated to your boss, parents, authorities. –Obligated to be fair and honest and not betray a trust. –You can keep a secret and an oath. Rights-based morality –You are focused on whom the action affects. Virtue-based morality –You can follow an example: Greek gods or sports hero.
Examples of… Utilitarianism –As an argument in a political process: democracy. Duty-based morality –Military service. –Boy Scouts. Rights-based morality –Civil rights. Virtue-based morality –Morality plays…the good guys vs. the bad guys –Aesop’s fables.
What’s all this got to do with Engineering? You design or work on things that affect a lot of people. You are employed by a company that has some expectations of you to perform. Your product may infringe upon an established patent. You want to break new ground in the field.
Fundamentals of Engineering Design by Barry Hyman “Four elements of morally responsible engineering behavior can be derived from the vision of engineering as a social experiment”
And these elements are… 1.A primary obligation to protect the safety and respect the right of consent of human subjects. 2.A constant awareness of the experimental nature of any project, imaginative forecasting of its possible side effects, and a reasonable effort to monitor them. 3.Autonomous, personal involvement in all steps of a project. 4.Accepting accountability for the results of a project.
Ethical Dilemmas A situation when you are confronted with a conflict among two or more moral considerations. Professor will now give an example of when he faced an ethical dilemma. (Brooklyn theater)
Lessons to be learned? What do you rely upon in a conflict? Upbringing, sense of decency, and common sense. You have to wake up with yourself the next morning. How comfortable are you with how you’ll explain things the next day. To take the high road, you have to do the right thing.
A More Formal Code Engineers uphold and advance the integrity, honor and dignity of the engineering profession by:
Fundamental Principles I.Using their knowledge and skill for the enhancement of human welfare; II.Being honest and impartial, and serving with fidelity the public, their employers and clients; III.Striving to increase the competence and prestige of the engineering profession; IV.Supporting the professional and technical societies of their disciplines.
Conflicts with Interpretations A written code is open to interpretation as to what it means. Different people react differently to the same set of conditions. In other words, you believe another person or organization has or is about to violate the code of ethics. You have to consider the role of whistleblower for yourself. (Rat, fink, Judas) The professor will share a story of one such occasion. (thief of services by employees)
Suggestions Make sure you have done your homework. Be sure your position is technically correct, credible, and well documented. Your approach should be direct and held to the facts. Focus on the actions or behavior and its consequences without resorting to personal attacks. You can inform them of your intent to report their actions if they persist.
Suggestions, con’t. When the person is your “boss”. Many organizations have means to take concerns to a higher level. This approach is not without its peril. Reduce your vulnerability to counter-attack, get support. Preferably from high up in the organization. Disassociate yourself from the unethical problems. Take a job transfer if you have to. Make sure there is a paper trail.
Finally Contact regulatory authorities. Consider the publicity threat as a last resort. By this time, you will be considered a “problem” employee. The professor will relate a personally experience. (smoking in a CO incident)
In Summary The goal to keep in mind is not to “win” but to modify unethical behavior.
Your Assignment Write up a one page paper that details an example of when you were faced with an ethical dilemma. Remember to specify the two distinct paths you were confronted with. State the reasons for your taking one path over the other.