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Lecture Notes-1

Posted on July 2, 2005 | 1 Comment

Motives and Professional Ethics

A definition of engineering appropriate to our discussion is, a positive tone of Sixth Commendment
Thou shalt not Kill
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 event.
Children playing with matches
Child shooting another with parents 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 responsibility.
The fine print of a contract releases the designer or engineer from liability.
The fine print of a contract assigns the designers or engineers 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 responsibility.
To say an engineer is responsible (acts responsibly) ascribes to that person a conscientious concern for the moral
ideals and aims of engineering.
A responsible engineer is motivated (in part) by respect for safety and the autonomy of the public and the client
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, they are positive. Any of these
motives can lead to dilemmas for the engineer if pursuing them conflicts with moral responsibility. But the dilemmas
are not moral; the engineer presumable knows what is morally required.
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.
Virtues provide a bridge between private and professional lives.
Virtues are general patterns of behavior, emotion, and attitudes that permeate all areas of life.
Moral integrity can be defined as inner unity on the basis of moral commitments.

Moral integrity is maintained when virtues are manifested across the bounds of both personal and professional life.
An engineer is not simply a part in a machine. Machine parts cant think; being human carries the special obligation to
Similar reasoning explains why statements like:
If I dont do it, someone else will or,
I might as well do it, everyone else does Are insupportable.
Moral behavior does not depend on what others do (or dont do). Persons who claim these excuses are failing to take
responsibility for their actions.
As Engineers weve to balance our self-interest with our moral obligation to safe guard the society.
In this context we dont want to be preached about what is right or wrong, rather we would like to take autonomous
decision after thorough analysis.
Self-Interest and Ethical Egoism
Moral behavior can be recognized as behavior that is good for the individual in the long run.
The sole duty of each of us is to maximize our own good.
Moral values are reduced to concern for oneself (prudence) but in the long term.
Paradox of Happiness
To seek happiness without regard for the happiness of others leads, in the long run, to ones own unhappiness.
The Pursuit of Self-Interest
Everyone benefits if all pursue their own self-interest
Society benefits most when
1. individuals pursue their own self-interest, and,
2. corporations (as expressions of the will of many individuals) pursue maximum profits in a free market environment.
Adam Smith
Ethical Egoism does provide guidance for behavior, but it denies the more global notion of moral behavior.
Laws and Ethical Conventionalism
The laws, customs and conventions of a society define morality.
Proponents argue that:
1. Laws are objective; easy to use as guides for behavior.
But, laws can be analyzed using morality as a point of view; apartheid is wrong, morally wrong. So moral values seem to
justify the subjective nature of law.
2. Ethical Conventionalism leads to tolerance toward others by viewing their conduct as morally correct; right for them
though wrong for us.
But, few would argue that Nazi Germanys laws regarding Jews was in any way morally correct.
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; a wrong action is forbidden by God; without God there is no
But, Socrates asked, in effect, Why does God make certain commands? Are the commands of God based on whim?
Surely not, God is (morally) good.
Divine Command Ethics seems to have things backwards- instead of commands of God creating morality, moral reasons
provide the foundation for the commands of God.
This discussion does not rely on questions of the existence or supremacy of God. Nor does it deny the importance or the
purpose of religion, which is, in part, to motivate right (moral) action.
Minimal Conception of Morality
Morality concerns reasons for the desirability of certain kinds of actions and the undesirability of others.
What are moral reasons?
Reasons which require us to respect others, to care for their well-being in addition to our own.
Reasons which place limits on the legitimate pursuit of happiness.
Reasons that can be used to analyze laws, customs, and conventions.
Moral conduct is based on concern for others, it is not reducible to self-interest, law or religion.
But, can we be more precise about what makes some actions morally correct, 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. In exercising that authority, he functioned at the top of a lucrative kickback scheme.
Lester Matz and John Childs were two of many engineers who participated in the scheme. Their consulting firm was
given special consideration as long as they made secret payments to Agnew of 5% of fees from clients. Even though their
firm was doing well, they entered into the arrangement to expand their business. They felt that in the past they had been
denied contracts from the county because they lacked of political connections.
It is easy to see that such behavior is unethical. But why is it unethical? What moral principles were violated?
Four types of theories are currently being debated; they differ mainly in what principles they consider most important.
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 is the view that we ought to produce the most good for the most people, giving equal consideration to
everyone affected.
Mill: Act-Utilitarianism and Happiness
Act-utilitarianism suggests we should focus on individual actions rather than general 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. Rules like
Keep your promises
Dont deceive
Dont bribe
should be broken whenever doing so will optimize good results.
What does it mean to maximize goodness? Mills believed that happiness is the only intrinsic good. All other good
things are instrumental goods in that they provide the means for happiness.
The notions of goodness and happiness and causual affects of acts is the principal problem with act-utilitarianism.
Brandt: Rule-Utilitarianism
Moral rules are primary (as opposed to right action). We ought to act on those rules which, if generally followed, would
produce the most good for the most people. Individual actions are right (moral) when they conform to those rules.
Rules should be considered in sets that Brandt calls moral codes. A moral code is justified when it consists of a set of
rules which, if adopted and followed, would produce the most overall good. Such a code is said to be optimal. Code sets
may be very general, or highly specific (like engineering codes of ethics).
Actions can be tested by casting the acts into rules:
Rule: Engage in secret payoffs when necessary for profitable business ventures.
Matz and Childs
Rule: Break the law when you can get away with it.
Clearly, application of these rules does not produce optimal good.
Most utilitarian have abandoned act-utilitarianism because it seems to open loopholes that are difficult to judge.
Duty Ethics

Right actions are those required by a list of duties such as:
Be honest
Keep your promises
Dont inflict suffering on others
Be fair
Make reparation when you have been unfair
Duties to ourselves:
Improve ones own intelligence and character
Develop ones talents
Dont commit suicide
Kant: Duties and Respect for Persons
Duties, rather than consequences, are fundamental. Why are the above duties? According to Kant, 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.
Respect for persons
To respect persons is to fulfill our duties to them. To respect oneself is to fulfill our duties to ourselves.
Categorical imperatives
Moral imperatives have no conditions attached; hypothetical imperatives do.
If you want to be happy, enrich your life with friends
Your money or your life
are hypothetical imperatives. Command is based on some condition.
Categorical imperatives are binding on us only if they apply to everyone.
Prima Facie Duties
Kant believed principles of duty were absolute. He did not speak to the possibility that absolute rules can lead to conflict,
thereby creating moral dilemmas. Modern ethicists address this issue by defining prima facia duties, i.e., principles of
duties that have exceptions.
Do not deceive
can be ignored if it comes in conflict with a higher principle, e.g.,
Protect innocent life.
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.
Valid principles of duty are those that would be voluntarily agreed upon by all rational persons in a contracting
A rational person
1. Lacks all specific knowledge of himself.
2. Has general knowledge of human societies and science.
3. Has a rational concern for his long-term interests.
4. Seeks to negotiate a principles all will voluntarily follow.
All rational people will (according to Rawls) agree to abide by two basic principles, namely,
1. Each person is entitled to the most extensive amount of freedom compatible with an equal amount for others.
2. Differences in social power and economic benefits are justified only when they are likely to benefit everyone,
including members of the most disadvantaged group.
Locke and Liberty Rights
Human rights ethics differs from duty ethics in believing that human rights form the highest principle; we have duties
because others have rights. For example, individuals do not have a right to life because others have a duty not to kill
them, but rather, the duty to protect life (not kill) arises from the right to life.
Locke argued that to be a person entails having rights- human rights- to life, liberty and property generated by ones
labor. Lockes view of rights are now called liberty (or negative) rights. Such rights place duties on other people not to
interfere with ones life. Lockes theories had a strong influence on the founding fathers and are reflected today in
libertarian ideology.
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. He argues that having moral rights presupposes the
capacity to show concern for others and to be accountable in a moral community.
In Meldens view, 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. Meldens approach defines welfare rights.
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; the morals and ideals to which a profession is dedicated, and the moral
character of its practitioners. Moral character, as defined by vices and virtues, has as much to do with motives, attitudes,
aspirations, and ideals as it does with right and wrong conduct.
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
Intellectual Virtues foresight, efficiency, creativity, mental discipline, perseverance, etc.
Moral virtues courage, truthfulness, generosity, friendliness, etc.
The Golden Mean suggests that moral virtues occupy the middle ground between two extremes:
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, MacIntyre introduces the idea of practices-cooperative activities
aimed toward achieving social goods that could not otherwise be achieved. The goods are said to be internal goods
because they are the results of the workings of the practice. External goods, fame, fortune, prestige, etc., can be gained in
many ways; internal goods are the result of practice.
The primary internal goods of medicine are good health and respect for patients autonomy; 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. A responsible engineer is motivated (in part) by
the safety and autonomy of the public.