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Professional Ethics and Human Values


” you must safe guard the society”

Causal and Legal ResponsibilityCausal Responsibility

Being the cause of an event is not always the same as being responsible for the
Children playing with matches
Child shooting another with parent’s gun
Pilot with reversed controls flying into a mountainLegal Responsibility

One might be found legally responsible for an event and still be morally pure.
Chip flies off hammer, blinding user
- product problem – bad steel
- design problem – no bevel
- improperly used
- used beyond expected life

Step ladder manufacturer

- inherently dangerous product?
- pass cost of liability on to consumer

Contract law can create the converse; no legal responsibility, but clear moral
The fine print of a contract releases the designer or engineer from liability.
The fine print of a contract assigns the designer’s or engineer’s liability to the client.
One reason so many persons are named in law suits is that a contract can not
protect a person from the consequences of actions in all cases:


Willful wrong doing

Causal and legal responsibility have been shown to be different from moral

To say an engineer “is responsible” (acts responsibly) ascribes to that person a
conscientious concern for the moral ideals and aims of engineering.

and attitudes that permeate all areas of life. Moral integrity is maintained when virtues are manifested across the bounds of both personal and professional life. emotion. Machine parts can’t think. everyone else does” Are insupportable. “I might as well do it. In this context we don’t want to be preached about what is right or wrong. Other motivations exist: Self-interest (but not selfishness) Professional excitement Pursuit of excellence To the extent that these nonmoral motives reinforce moral behavior and responsibility. An engineer is not simply a part in a machine. someone else will” or. Virtues provide a bridge between private and professional lives. the engineer presumable knows what is morally required. Moral behavior does not depend on what others do (or don’t do). Personal Integrity an Virtues Professional responsibility can not be divorced from personal integrity “I was just following orders” is no defense because there is a direct link between professional behavior and personal integrity. rather we would like to take autonomous decision after thorough analysis. Persons who claim these excuses are failing to take responsibility for their actions. Self-Interest and Ethical Egoism . Moral integrity can be defined as inner unity on the basis of moral commitments. As Engineers we’ve to balance our self-interest with our moral obligation to safe guard the society. being human carries the special obligation to think. Virtues are general patterns of behavior.A responsible engineer is motivated (in part) by respect for safety and the autonomy of the public and the client (employer). Any of these motives can lead to dilemmas for the engineer if pursuing them conflicts with moral responsibility. Similar reasoning explains why statements like: “If I don’t do it. But the dilemmas are not moral. they are positive.

But. in the long run. . morally wrong. 2. a wrong action is forbidden by God. to one’s own unhappiness. apartheid is wrong. but it denies the more global notion of moral behavior. individuals pursue their own self-interest. God is (morally) good. moral reasons provide the foundation for the commands of God. corporations (as expressions of the will of many individuals) pursue maximum profits in a free market environment. The Pursuit of Self-Interest Everyone benefits if all pursue their own self-interest Society benefits most when 1. few would argue that Nazi Germany’s laws regarding Jews was in any way morally correct. and. Paradox of Happiness To seek happiness without regard for the happiness of others leads. customs and conventions of a society define morality.instead of commands of God creating morality. Divine Command Ethics seems to have things backwards. This discussion does not rely on questions of the existence or supremacy of God.Moral behavior can be recognized as behavior that is good for the individual in the long run. But. Ethical Conventionalism leads to tolerance toward others by viewing their conduct as morally correct. The sole duty of each of us is to maximize our own good. Laws and Ethical Conventionalism The laws. laws can be analyzed using morality as a point of view. easy to use as guides for behavior. Moral values are reduced to concern for oneself (prudence) – but in the long term. 2. But. “Why does God make certain commands? Are the commands of God based on whim? Surely not. Proponents argue that: 1. So moral values seem to justify the subjective nature of law. Laws are objective. without God there is no morality. Socrates asked. Ethical Conventionalism seems to suggest that believing something to be correct makes it so.Flat earth -Slaves as subhuman Religion and Divine Command Ethics To say an action is right means it is commanded by God. . in effect. – Adam Smith Ethical Egoism does provide guidance for behavior. right for them though wrong for us.

Ethical Theories Theory Proponents Basic Concept Utilitarianism Mill/Brandt Most good for most people Duty Ethics Kant/Rawls Duties and responsibilities Rights Ethics Locke/ Melden Human rights Virtue Ethics Aristotle/ MacIntyre Virtues and vices Utilitarianism . Lester Matz and John Childs were two of many engineers who participated in the scheme. customs. they differ mainly in what principles they consider most important. What are moral reasons? Reasons which require us to respect others. and others not? We are getting there… Four Types of Moral TheoriesConsider the Agnew kickback scheme: As County Executive for Baltimore County from 1962-1966 had the authority to award contracts for public works projects to engineering firms. Minimal Conception of Morality Morality concerns reasons for the desirability of certain kinds of actions and the undesirability of others. can we be more precise about what makes some actions morally correct. which is. in part. But. Reasons which place limits on the legitimate pursuit of happiness. It is easy to see that such behavior is unethical. it is not reducible to self-interest. Moral conduct is based on concern for others. to motivate right (moral) action. and conventions. In exercising that authority.Nor does it deny the importance or the purpose of religion. to care for their well-being in addition to our own. Their consulting firm was given special consideration as long as they made secret payments to Agnew of 5% of fees from clients. he functioned at the top of a lucrative kickback scheme. law or religion. But why is it unethical? What moral principles were violated? Four types of theories are currently being debated. They felt that in the past they had been denied contracts from the county because they lacked of political connections. Even though their firm was doing well. Reasons that can be used to analyze laws. they entered into the arrangement to expand their business.

Such a code is said to be optimal. Brandt: Rule-Utilitarianism Moral rules are primary (as opposed to right action). if adopted and followed. Mill: Act-Utilitarianism and Happiness Act-utilitarianism suggests we should focus on individual actions rather than general rules. or highly specific (like engineering codes of ethics). Rules like Keep your promises Don’t deceive Don’t bribe should be broken whenever doing so will optimize good results. All other good things are “instrumental goods” in that they provide the means for happiness. Rules should be considered in sets that Brandt calls “moral codes”. giving equal consideration to everyone affected. Most utilitarian have abandoned act-utilitarianism because it seems to open loopholes that are difficult to judge. Code sets may be very general. Individual actions are right (moral) when they conform to those rules. An action is right (moral) if it is likely to produce the most good for the most people involved in a particular situation. Rules are useful as guides because experience has shown that following them often leads to good results. Agnew Clearly. if generally followed. What does it mean to “maximize goodness”? Mills believed that happiness is the only intrinsic good. application of these rules does not produce optimal good. would produce the most good for the most people. We ought to act on those rules which.Utilitarianism is the view that we ought to produce the most good for the most people. would produce the most overall good. Matz and Childs Rule: Break the law when you can get away with it. The notions of “goodness” and “happiness” and causual affects of acts is the principal problem with act-utilitarianism. A moral code is justified when it consists of a set of rules which. Actions can be tested by casting the acts into rules: Rule: Engage in secret payoffs when necessary for profitable business ventures. Duty Ethics Right actions are those required by a list of duties such as: Be honest Keep your promises Don’t inflict suffering on others Be fair Make reparation when you have been unfair .

Prima Facie Duties Kant believed principles of duty were absolute. Categorical imperatives Moral imperatives have no conditions attached. Has general knowledge of human societies and science. Each person is entitled to the most extensive amount of freedom compatible with .. enrich your life with friends Your money or your life are hypothetical imperatives. To respect oneself is to fulfill our duties to ourselves. rather than consequences. 4. Command is based on some condition. “Protect innocent life”. “Do not deceive” can be ignored if it comes in conflict with a higher principle. because they meet three conditions: each expresses respect for persons each is an unqualified command for autonomous moral agents (categorical imperatives) each is a universal principle. Why are the above duties? According to Kant. namely. A rational person 1. He did not speak to the possibility that absolute rules can lead to conflict.Duties to ourselves: Improve one’s own intelligence and character Develop one’s talents Don’t commit suicide Kant: Duties and Respect for Persons Duties.g. principles of duties that have exceptions. 2.e. Modern ethicists address this issue by defining “prima facia” duties. i. Lacks all specific knowledge of himself. are fundamental.. thereby creating moral dilemmas. Universality Categorical imperatives are binding on us only if they apply to everyone. Valid principles of duty are those that would be voluntarily agreed upon by all rational persons in a “contracting” situation. Seeks to negotiate a principles all will voluntarily follow. 3. Respect for persons To respect persons is to fulfill our duties to them. Rawls: Principles of Duty Ethics John Rawls tries to formulate general principles that can be ranked in order of importance without having to rely on intuitive judgments. e. Has a rational concern for his long-term interests. hypothetical imperatives do. All rational people will (according to Rawls) agree to abide by two basic principles. If you want to be happy. 1.

He argues that having moral rights presupposes the capacity to show concern for others and to be accountable in a moral community. Melden’s approach defines welfare rights. has as much to do with equal amount for others. Aristotle: Virtue and The Golden Mean Virtues are acquired habits that enable us to engage effectively in rational activities – activities that define us as human beings. Intellectual Virtues – foresight. Locke’s view of rights are now called liberty (or negative) life. aspirations. attitudes. The Golden Mean suggests that moral virtues occupy the middle ground between two extremes: . 2. including members of the most disadvantaged group. mental discipline. (HUMAN) RIGHTS THEORY Locke and Liberty Rights Human rights ethics differs from duty ethics in believing that human rights form the highest principle. the duty to protect life (not kill) arises from the right to life. Such rights place duties on other people not to interfere with one’s life. Responsibility and Virtue Ethics Preoccupation with procedures useful in confronting and evaluating moral dilemmas should not lead us to neglect the heart and spirit of true professionalism. Differences in social power and economic benefits are justified only when they are likely to benefit everyone. etc. etc. friendliness. For example. and the moral character of its practitioners. Melden: Welfare Rights In sharp contrast to the highly individualistic notion of human rights espoused by Locke. Melden proposes that such rights arise out of interactions of individuals in a community. but rather. we have duties because others have rights. generosity. the morals and ideals to which a profession is dedicated. Locke’s theories had a strong influence on the founding fathers and are reflected today in libertarian ideology. In Melden’s view. creativity. liberty and property generated by one’s labor. Locke argued that to be a person entails having rights. individuals do not have a right to life because others have a duty not to kill them. perseverance. truthfulness.human rights. rights are positive: they place an obligation on individuals in a community to provide all with benefits needed to lead a minimally decent human life. Moral character. and ideals as it does with right and wrong conduct. as defined by vices and virtues. efficiency. Moral virtues – courage.

prestige. The goods are said to be internal goods because they are the results of the workings of the practice. etc. MacIntyre introduces the idea of practices-cooperative activities aimed toward achieving social goods that could not otherwise be achieved. the primary internal good of the law is social justice. What is the primary internal good of engineering? The primary internal good of engineering is the creation of useful and safe products while respecting the autonomy of clients and the public. The primary internal goods of medicine are good health and respect for patient’s autonomy.foolhardiness – courage – cowardice tactlessness – truthfulness – secretiveness wastefulness – generosity – miserliness Moral virtues allow us to pursue a variety of social goods within a community.. MacIntyre: Virtues and Practices In order to apply virtue ethics to professional ethics. fortune. A responsible engineer is motivated (in part) by the safety and autonomy of the public. fame. . internal goods are the result of practice. External goods. can be gained in many ways.