Engineering Ethics

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Transcript Engineering Ethics

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
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
• 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
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
Ethical Dilemmas
• A situation when you are confronted with a
conflict among two or more moral
• 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
• You have to wake up with yourself the next
• How comfortable are you with how you’ll
explain things the next day.
• To take the high road, you have to do the right
A More Formal Code
• Engineers uphold and advance the
integrity, honor and dignity of the
engineering profession by:
Fundamental Principles
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
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)
• 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
• Focus on the actions or behavior and its
consequences without resorting to personal
• 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
• Disassociate yourself from the unethical
problems. Take a job transfer if you have to.
• Make sure there is a paper trail.
• Contact regulatory authorities.
• Consider the publicity threat as a last
• 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.