Engineering Ethics
** Hyman Ch. 4.4
** Introduction to Engineering Ethics
by R. Schinzinger and M.W. Martin
** Online Ethics Center
Engineering Ethics
• The study of understanding moral values,
resolving moral issues and justifying moral
decisions in engineering practice.
• Also can be considered beliefs and
acceptable practices  codes of ethics
• Finally, it is also the obligation, justification
and principles to be endorsed.
Learning Objectives
• Enhance the ability to deal with difficult ethical decisions
• Strengthen moral autonomy (self-determination) – the
habit of thinking rationally about ethical issues following
appropriate moral principles  improve practical skills
such as
– Recognize and understanding ethical situations
– Critical thinking skill on assessing opposing sides of
ethical issues
– Tolerate uncertainty and respect different perspectives
in decision making
– Maintain moral integrity by integrating personal
convictions and professional practices (sweat the small
– Be articulate by learning common ethical language (to
support or oppose viewpoints)
Methodologies for Case Studies
• State of the art in engineering ethics – an article
by Charles Harris (Texas A&M) dedicated on
methodologies to resolve engineering ethical
issues through the use of case studies and other
– Methods of Analysis and Problem Resolution
– Studied Cases: micro-cases, macro-cases, and
exemplary cases.
– Microethics (ex: health and safety, integrity,
bribes/gifts, etc..), macroethics (less emphasis, ex:
sustainability, nanotechnology, cloning, etc..)
Sustainable Development Goals
• Biological (ecological) system
– Genetic diversity, resilience, biological productivity
• Economic system
– Increased production of goods and services,
satisfaction of basic needs or reducing poverty,
improvement in equality
• Social system (least emphasized)
– Cultural diversity, social justice, gender equality,
Methods of Analysis
• Factual Issues
– Conflicts over a matter of fact crucial to problem
solution (ex: global warming data interpretation)
• Conceptual Issues
– Conflicts over a definition of a concept (ex: Terri
Schiavo case, definition of “death”)
• Application Issues
– Conflicts over the application of a concept in a
particular situation (conflict of interest)
• Moral Issues
– Conflict between values or obligations (Spotted Owl
and Timber Industry controversy, environmental and
job protection)
Problem-Resolution (cont.)
– Bottom-Up Methods of Resolution (intuitive level
of moral thinking, moral common sense)
• Weighing or balancing: evaluate and weighs alternatives
• Casuistry/Line drawing: comparing with cases with clear ethical
characteristics (positive or negative) CASE STUDY
• Creative middle ways: acceptable compromise
– Top-Down Methods of Resolution (philosophical
• Utilitarianism: well being of the greatest number of people (ex:
intellectual property, patented drugs in underdeveloped
– Cost/benefit analysis
• Respect for persons: justice and rights of individuals
A Classical Ethical Dilemma
• Trolley problem or lifeboat problem
Adopted from
Analogy between Moral Issues and
Engineering Design (C. Whitebeck, 2003)
Require synthesis and analysis
Usually without a simple correct solution
Some solutions are better than others
An acceptable solution must
– Achieve the desired goals
– Conform to given specifications
– Reasonably risk free
– Consistent with constraints
Some Ethics References
Online Ethics Center-sample assignments for student
Help on ethical decisions
Numerical and design problems with ethical content
Write case studies based on senior design projects
Key concepts to teach engineering ethics