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Ethics is Not Enough: From Professionalism to the Political Philosophy of Engineering

Ethics is Not Enough: From Professionalism to the Political Philosophy of Engineering
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Author(s): Carl Mitcham (Colorado School of Mines, USA)
Copyright: 2015
Pages: 33
Source title: Contemporary Ethical Issues in Engineering
Source Author(s)/Editor(s): Satya Sundar Sethy (Indian Institute of Technology Madras, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8130-9.ch005


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This chapter argues for understanding engineering ethics in terms of three principles—but then going beyond ethics to political theory. A simplified prefatory comparison between engineering and science points to the importance of ethics in engineering. Section 1 provides a historico-philosophical overview of engineering ethics in the United States, on the premise that American experience can be generally illuminating. The narrative traces a trajectory of commitments from company loyalty to public responsibility, with the public responsibility promoting public engagement. Section 2 considers three influential American cases that together suggest a duty to public disclosure. Section 3 broadens the analysis through selective reviews of engineering ethics profiles in Germany, The Netherlands, Japan, Chile, and in transnational professional engineering organizations, on the basis of which is articulated a duty not only to avoid harm but also to do good. Section 4, a critical reflection on engineering in the intensive form of research and design, posits a synthesis of the principles of participation, disclosure, and beneficence into a duty plus respicare, to take more into account. A concluding section nevertheless suggests the inadequacy of limiting engineering ethics to ethics. Ethics in engineering like ethics generally implicates political theory. Ethics in the absence of politics demands unrealistic personal heroism; political theory without any foundation in ethics promotes tyranny.

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