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Engineering Ethics at a glance

Historical Backgrounds
Three moral inquiries
Senses of Engineering Ethics
EE and Philosophy
Why study Engineering Ethics
Moral Autonomy
Theories of moral Development
• Positive and negative effects of technology on society is widely
connected with the moral and ethical issues.
• Literary imaginations became real through the inventions of
• Social demands created the artificial tools and artifacts from nature
to be created by the people for the people.
• But several failures to support humanity demanded the issues of
ethical and moral values of the technologists and professionals
including engineers.
• Explosion of Challenger is widely used example of neglecting ethical
issues regarding engineers. Other examples may be quoted of
collapse of bridges, roads, highways, buildings etc.
• So, the focal concern of Engineering Ethics is ‘Safety issue’ of public
works done by the engineers and to make them concerned.
Introduction (cont.)
Society and technology is
connected with ethical issues

Social Demands Technology

Positive or negative effects on population Ethical concern or failure

• It is already clear that the work of engineers has moral dimensions
which should be of interest to us all. These implications should also
be the highest priority for engineers and other professionals
involved in technology. And the issue is complex.
• As citizens it is necessary to ensure that whistle blowing engineers
are not routinely fired and persecuted by their employers as most of
them takes place within profit-making corporations which in turn are
embedded in an intricate structure of society and government
• How corporations can be better structured to allow responsible
engineers to act on their moral convictions and professional
• An enriched understanding is needed to engage in the study of
engineering ethics.
Definition of Engineering Ethics
• It is the study of the moral issues and decision confronting
individuals and organizations involved in engineering.
• The study of related questions about moral conduct, character,
ideals, and relationships of people and organizations involved in
technological development.
• It is usually the response to specific problems that prods us to make
the world better.
• Character, general ideals and relationships are equally important
foci in approaching engineering ethics.
• The scope of engineering ethics is wider than the ethics of
engineers. Because, engineering ethics include decisions made by
the others engaged in the technological enterprise, including
scientists, managers, production workers, and their supervisors,
technicians, technical writers, governmental officials, lawyers, and
the general public.
Historical background
Ethical concern among engineers began as early as the profession of
engineering but as an abstract issue.
By the 1970s philosophical ethics had become considerably less
abstract than in the previous two decades as bioethics and legal
ethics emerged in the mean time.
The first element in this new view of ethics is the recognition that, as
Annette Baier put it, ethical understanding is a cultural product.
Ethical discussions has taken an increasingly practical turn in recent
decades, and in the 1990s has provided new ground for the
development of areas of practical ethics, such as research ethics.
In the late nineteenth century, newly emerging professional societies
for engineers formally expressed this concern by writing codes of
Historical background ( cont.)
• Earlier books by Harding and Canfield (1963), Mantell (1964), and Alger et
al. (1965), as well as journals such as the Professional Engineer, covered
the traditional aspects of engineering ethics very well, but they did not
examine its wider implications.
• During the middle of the 70s Issues in Engineering, was published by the
American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE’s), and the Newsletter of the
Committee on Social Implications of Technology now Technology and
Society Magazine was published by the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
• Now in the world, as Lynch reports, nine of the top ten engineering schools
have some ethics component in their curriculum.
• Engineering Ethics became more clearly defined with the National Project
on Philosophy and Engineering Ethics carried out under the direction of
Robert Baum from 1978 to 1980.
• The first interdisciplinary conference took place in 1980 at Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute, and there have been several others since then.
• Engineering is the largest profession numerically affects all of us in
most areas of our lives.
• The skill of surgeon’s hands can affect one patient at a time , the
judgment of design engineer can influence hundreds of lives at a
• In spite the dramatic impact of engineering on our safety, we have
tended to stereotype it as a tool of vast impersonal organizations.
• Individuals involved in it have frequently be viewed as cogs in
machines rather than as responsible decision makers.
• Engineering products derive from personal creative activity.
• Engineering products derive from personal creative activity in which
responsible conduct can make the difference between large-scale
benefit or large scale harm up to and including life and death.
• It explores the moral dimension of technology from the inside.
Three moral inquiries
• The study of Engineering can be viewed as involving three distinct
kinds of inquiry:
Engineering Inquiry

Normative Conceptual Descriptive

Refers to the moral…Concerned with clarifying… Seeks to provide…

• Normative: Refers to the moral norms or standards
which are desirable for action , attitudes, policies,
organizational structures and individual character traits.
(Pg.9,,Martin and Schinzinger.)
• Conceptual : Concerned with clarifying basic ideas,
principles, issues and types of argument concerning the
moral problems in engineering.
• Descriptive : which seeks to provide factual information
needed for understanding and dealing with both
conceptual and normative issues.
• Besides there is macro and micro moral issues.
Senses of E. Ethics.
• Basically there are three distinct senses of Engineering
• First, Ethics is a discipline or area of study dealing with
moral problems. E. ethics is the discipline of the moral
issues arising in and surrounding engineering.
• Second, when we speak of ethical problems, we mean to
distinguish them from unethical problems regarding
politics, law, or etc. but E.E. in this sense deals with the
moral problems and issues related to engineering.
• Third, is purely descriptive because it concerns merely
the facts about what engineers and others believe as
regards moral problems in engineering.
Why study E. Ethics
• It increases the ability of engineers, managers, citizens
and others to confront the urgent moral questions raised
by technological activity.
• The aim is to empower individuals to reason more
effectively concerning moral questions.
• The aim should be to strengthen moral autonomy.
• An ability to design a system, component, or process to
meet desired needs.
• An ability to function on multi-disciplinary teams.
• An ability to identify, formulate and solve engineering
ethical problems.
• An understanding of professional and ethical
• An ability to communicate effectively with personnel of
other related disciplines
• The broad education necessary to understand the
impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal
• A knowledge of contemporary issues.
Moral Autonomy
• Adult moral concern can be evoked by any number of influences:
friends, ministers, social events, novels, movies, etc.
• The main topic of taking a course on applied ethics should be to
improve the ability to reflect critically on moral issues.
• This can be accomplished by improving various practical skills.
• Proficiency in recognizing moral problems involved in engineering.
• Skills in critically assessing arguments on opposing sides of moral
• The ability to form comprehensive viewpoints
• Imaginative awareness of alternative responses to the issues.
• Sensitivity to genuine difficulties which includes a
willingness to tolerate some uncertainty in making
troublesome moral judgments.
• Increased precision in the use of a common ethical
• Enriched appreciation of both the possibilities of using
rational dialogue in resolving moral conflicts and of the
need of tolerance of differences of opinions.
• It is an integral part of being a responsible person.
Theories of Moral Development
• We will discuss the • Kohlberg’s
Kohlberg’s theory
following two theories
of Moral development
• Kohlberg’s Theory Pre-conventional level
Conventional Level
• Gilligan’s Theory

Post conventional Level

Kohlberg’s theory
• Pre-conventional Level: Right conduct is regarded as
whatever directly benefits oneself.
• Individuals are motivated primarily by the desire to avoid
punishment by unquestioning deference to power, or by
a desire to satisfy their own needs.
• This is the level of all young children and few adults who
never manage to go beyond it.
• Conventional level : Norms o one’s family, group or
society are accepted as the final standard of morality.
• These norms or conventions are uncritically adopted as
being correct because they represent authority.
• Individuals at this level are motivated by the desire to
please others and to meet the expectations of the social
unit, regardless of immediate affects on their self-
• Loyalty and close identification with others have
overriding importance.
• This studies reveal that most adults never mature much
beyond this stage.
• Post conventional Stage : It is attained when an individual comes
to regard the standard of right and wrong as a set of principles
having to do with rights and the general good that are not reducible
to self-interest or to social conventions.
• Kohlberg calls these individuals autonomous because they think for
themselves and do not assume that customs are always right.
• They also seek to reason and live by general principles.
• They maintain moral integrity, self-respect and the respect of others
autonomous individuals
• Criticism: How did he come to know that these are correct stages ?
And that higher stages represents more advanced stages of moral
Gilligan’s Theory
• In the book In a different Voice Carol Gilligan charges
that Kohlberg’s studies are male biased.
• According to Gilligan. There is some tendency for men to
be more interested in trying to solve moral problems by
applying abstract moral principles.
• Males tend to resolve moral dilemmas by determining
which moral rule is most important and should override
other moral rules relevant to the dilemma.
• Women, by contrast try harder to preserve personal
relationships with all people involved in a situation.
• In order to do so they focus greater attention on the
details of the context in which the dilemma arises, rather
than invoking and trying to rank general rules.
• Ethics of rules and rights and ethics of care.
• Both males and females sometimes use both kinds of ethics.
• Pre-conventional stage: Same as Kohlberg’s first level.
• The conventional level: There is the opposite preoccupation with not
hurting others and with a willingness to sacrifice one’s own interests
in order to help or nurture others.
• The post conventional level: The individual becomes able to strike a
reasonable balance between caring about other people and
perusing one’s own self-interest while exercising one’s rights.
• The aim is to balance one’s own needs of others , while maintaining
relationship with the mutual based on mutual caring.