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Important terminologies
• Ethics: The philosophical study of what is right or wrong in human
conduct and what rules or principles should govern it. Hence the term
is singular. This is often subdivided into meta-ethics, applied ethics
and professional ethics.
• Meta-ethics: The systematic study of the nature of ethics. This looks
into issues such as how an ethical judgement can be justified and the
possible theoretical underpinning of ethical reflection and practice.
• Applied Ethics: The application of ethics in a particular area of
practice, e.g. business or bio-ethics.
Important terminologies
• Professional Ethics: The ethical identity, codes and practices of
particular professions, such as the professions followed by nurses,
doctors, lawyers or engineers.
• Morality: Morality often refers to standards of moral conduct – right
In the history of philosophy there have been many attempts to differentiate the
concept from ethics.
However, it is most often used interchangeably with the term ‘ethics’
Important terminologies
• Engineering Ethics: Engineering ethics is defined in the two ways:
1. The study of moral issues and decisions confronting individuals and
organizations involved in engineering.
2. The study of related questions about moral conduct, character and
relationship involved in technical development (Martin and
Schinzinger 1989).
Background ideas
• The Ford Pinto case
• Safety and the market price competition
Background ideas
• Ethical cases can go far beyond issues of public safety and may involve
bribery, fraud, environmental protection, fairness, honesty in research
and testing, and conflicts of interest
• During their undergraduate education, engineers receive training in
basic and engineering sciences, problem solving methodology, and
engineering design, but generally receive little training in business
practices, safety, and ethics.
Why study professional ethics
• The technical work of an engineer has far-reaching impacts on society
• Can affect public health and safety and can influence business
practices and even politics !
• Moral autonomy
• The ability to think critically and independently about moral issues and to
apply this moral thinking to situations that arise in the course of professional
engineering practice
• Why should a future engineer bother studying ethics at all?
• Nature of ethical problems
Engineering is managing the unknown
• Lack of knowledge – not a very uncommon problem
• Engineers cannot answer all the questions related to the product they
have designed
• Engineer’s job is to manage the unknown
• Testing in the allowable capacity, creativity to foresee the problem
Personal vs. Professional ethics
• Personal ethics deals with how we treat others in our day-to-day lives.
• Professional ethics often involves choices on an organizational level
rather than a personal level
• For many individuals, personal ethics are rooted in religious beliefs
Characteristics of professional ethics
• Unlike common morality and personal morality, professional ethics is
usually stated in a formal code
• The professional codes of ethics of a given profession focus on the issues
that are important in that profession.
• When one is in a professional relationship, professional ethics is supposed
to take precedence over personal morality—at least ordinarily.
• Professional ethics sometimes differs from personal morality in its degree
of restriction of personal conduct.
• Professional ethics, like ethics generally, has a negative and a positive
Moral values embedded in the
engineering projects
Assignment given to students in a freshman
engineering course
• “Design a chicken coop that would increase egg and chicken
production, using materials that were readily available and
maintainable by local workers [at a Mayan cooperative in Guatemala].
The end users were to be the women of a weaving cooperative who
wanted to increase the protein in their children’s diet in ways that are
consistent with their traditional diet, while not appreciably distracting
from their weaving.”
Complexities in the task:
• Identify - building material
• Decide - cages or one fenced area
• Create – safe access for the villagers at appropriate height, safe floor
for bare foot
• Ensure – humane conditions for the chickens (adequate space, food
and water delivery, protection from predators, comfort during climate
• Improve – cleaning procedures to minimize environment damage
Primary Goal
• Improve egg production
• At what point does the aim of increasing chicken and egg
production compromise humane conditions for the animals?
Moral complexity in engineering
• As a product develops from mental concept to physical completion,
engineers encounter both moral and technical problems concerning…
• Variability in the materials available to them
• The quality of work by coworkers at all levels
• Pressures imposed by time and the whims of the marketplace
• Relationships of authority within corporations
How does ethics help?
• The circumstances surrounding issues are varied and complex,
therefore, professionals must logically and critically analyze those
circumstances if they are to make ethically sound decisions.
• Professional ethics formulates some basic ethical postulates that
would be a guide to sound ethical decision-making.
Ethics problems are like design problems
• The essence of engineering practice is the design of products,
structures, and processes.
• The design problem is stated in terms of specifications: A device must
be designed that meets criteria for performance, aesthetics, and
• In engineering design, there is no unique correct answer!
• Ethical problem solving and engineering design share some
attributes: range of correct and wrong solutions, no unique solution,
a large body of knowledge to the solution, analytical skills
Ethics and the law
• The practice of engineering is governed by many laws on the
international, federal, state, and local levels
• Many of these laws are based on ethical principles, although many
are purely of a practical, rather than a philosophical, nature
• What is legal and what is ethical?
• Many things that are legal could be considered unethical
• Just because something is illegal doesn’t mean that it is unethical
The space shuttle CHALLENGER accident
• It seems to simply be an
accident, but there are still many
interesting questions that should
be asked

• When there are safety concerns,

what is the engineer’s
responsibility before the launch
decision is made?
The space shuttle CHALLENGER accident
• After the launch decision is
made, but before the actual
launch, what duty does the
engineer have? If the decision
doesn’t go the engineer’s way,
should she complain to upper
management? Or should she
bring the problem to the
attention of the press? After the
accident has occurred, what are
the duties and responsibilities of
the engineers?
The space shuttle CHALLENGER accident
• If the launch were successful,
but the postmortem showed
that the O-ring had failed and an
accident had very nearly
occurred, what would be the
engineer’s responsibility? Even if
an engineer moves into
management, should he
separate engineering from
management decisions?