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Chapter 3

Framing the Problem

Case
Ben is assigned by his employer, Cartex, to
work on an improvement to an ultrasonic
range-finding device. While working on the
improvment, he gets an idea for a
modification of the equipment that might be
applicable to military submarines. If he is
successful, it could be worth alot of money
to his company. However, Ben is a pacifist
and does not want to contribute in any way
to the development of military hardware.

Case
So Ben neither develops the idea himself nor
mentions it to anybody else in the company. Ben
has signed an agreement that all inventions he
produces on the job arethe property of the
company, but does not believe the agreement
applies his situation. For one thing, his idea is not
developed. For another, his superiors know of his
antimilitaritary sentiments. Yet he wonders if he is
ethically right in concealing his idea from his
employer.

How should we resolve controversial issues


related to engineering ethics?
Some kind of methodical approach is needed.
1977: Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) temporary regulation
for limiting benzene amount in any working
place (1ppm).

1980: U.S. Supreme Court relaxed the OSHA


limitation (10 ppm, indicating that OSHA should
come up with substantial evidence for more
strict limits).

Case of Benzene Exposure in the


Workplace
Was this conflict between OSHA and the
Supreme Court a result of disagreement over
basic moral beliefs?
Moral disagreement at this issue looks as if there is
some controversy of establishing minimum
acceptable health standards in a work-place.
There should be no question on limiting the benzene
content to have sufficient healthy conditions.
Possibly there is also un-clarity about the priorities
and trade-offs in relation to this issue. (There is no
such thing as perfect, carcinogen-free, or zero-risk
working conditions at any place.)

What is Common Morality?


Set of moral beliefs which most reasonable
people do share regardless of their background
(religious or secular).
Examples
Accepting bribes is unethical.
Concealing conflicts of interest for a responsible
engineer is wrong.

Some obvious areas of disagreement


Abortion, euthanasia, death penalty (in general).
Euthanasia for a certain patient (specific case).

But there is a general consensus over moral


beliefs. So why do moral disagreements occur?

How to formulate our moral beliefs?


Common features of human life include

Vulnerability
Autonomy
Interdependency
Shared expectations and goals
Common moral traits

So moral beliefs should include general


principles such as not harming others, not to
cheat, keep promises, respect for others, not
to interfere with the freedom of others, etc.

How to formulate our moral beliefs? (cont.)


But of course, with specific exceptions:
Telling a lie is bad, but might be acceptable for a
certain situation.
One should be able to provide proper justification or
a good cause to do so.

Many engineering codes reflect these values


underlined by common morality.

Different Morality Perspectives


Distinction should be made between
Common morality
Personal morality
Professional morality

There could be conflicting answers from


different morality perspectives:
Taking bribe is obviously against professional and
common morality. It can be OK for a certain
individuals own moral values.
Designing destructive weapons could be OK for
professional morality but against personal and
common morality.

Engineers (apart from other professionals) have


further responsibility to the society in general
because of their expertise and capability of
design and production which can either harm or
benefit people.
Scope of responsibility for engineers is
debatable:

Should an engineer inform the authorities when he/she


notices the wrong of other engineers?

Changes in common morality can impose


changes in professional morality and vice-versa.

Justification of basing professional ethics


issues on common morality
Attempting to make judgments based on
common moral values shared by everyone.
This would eliminate possible bias (some moral
values are important only by people having
faith in a certain religion or belief).
The Belmont Report: Sample Case.
Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of
Human Subjects of Research created by the former
United States Department of Health, Education and
Welfare

Universalizability and Reversibility (Chapter 4


in 3rd edition)

Two Key Concepts:


Universalizability and Reversibility.
Universalizability: Whatever is right (or
wrong) in one situation is right (or wrong)
in any relevantly similar situation. (it
requires us to be consistent in our
thinking)
Reversibility: Treat others as you would
have them treat you (Golden Rule). What
would you think if the roles were
reversed?

How to Analyze a Case


(1) What are the relevant facts?
(2) What are the relevant kinds of ethical
considerations?
The Case of Steven Severson (page 38 or 54)
Facts that are relevant?
Facts that are irrelevant?
Is there a breach of honesty if he deliberately omits
some data from his report?
How do universalizability and reversibility apply in
this case?

Factual Issues
What looks like a moral disagreement can be
disagreement over the facts of the situation
(possibly lack of sufficient information).
Example 1: Dialogue of Tom and Jim on OSHA
regulation.
Example 2: Disagreement of Judy and Jane related to
affirmative action to avoid sexual or racial
discrimination.

Some factual issues never become clear:


There is no feasible way to prove that affirmative
action is the only way to overcome discrimination.

Factual Issues (cont.)


When the facts are clear, the possible
moral disagreements can be identified
easily.
Difficulties:
Sorting relevant facts from irrelevant facts is
not always easy.
Known facts versus unknown facts:
Unknown Relevant Facts can make a big
difference.

Ethical Concepts and Conceptual Issues


How to define and measure?

Health
Safety
Conflicts of interest
Bribery
Extortion
Confidentiality
Loyalty

Some cases blatantly and obviously are


unethical.
But there are also very obscure situations.

Conceptual Issues (cont.)


As far as health is concerned, what should be
the acceptable risk levels?
How to differentiate between bribery and
extortion?
Listing major features of clear-cut cases can
help deciding on less obvious cases as well:
Example case 1. (OSHA vs. US Supreme Court)
Example case 2. (Steven Severson)

Specific Moral Problems vs General Moral


Problems
One can say that consensus is relatively easier
for General Moral Problems.
But most problems concerning professional
ethics faced by engineers are of specific type.
Specific Moral Problems are relatively more
difficult to resolve.

Conclusion: How to Resolve Problems


Identify relevant known facts.
Identify relevant moral concepts.
Try resolving factual issues. How unknown
facts could affect the problem?
Resolve conceptual issues.
Revisit the earlier steps to check for extra
relevant facts, factual issues, conceptual issues
and unknown relevant facts.
Additional relevant moral values, concepts, etc.
Suggest resolution with supporting reasons.

Framing the Problem Continued


In the previous sections we considered some
ways of sorting out
Factual and
Conceptual components of moral problems.
Sometimes this resolves moral problems!
But sometimes there is still uncertainty
about what ought to be done or decided MORAL PROBLEM

Moral Problem
means that there is disagreement or
uncertainty about the moral
evaluation of the person or action!
Now we are going to focus more
directly on these kinds of moral
problems and consider some
techniques for resolving them.

Two common Techniques:

Line-drawing and
Seeking a creative middle way.
techniques.

Line Drawing
Line Drawing involves viewing a moral
problem on a spectrum.
Where we have:
Action on one end
Being clearly right
(positive Paradigm)
.

Action on the other


end being clearly wrong
(negative paradigm)

Line Drawing
Sample Case page 60-63:(or 66-69 in 3rd edn.)
Suppose Amanda signs an agreement with
Company A (with no time limit) that obligates her
not to reveal its trade secrets. Amanda later moves
to Company B, where she finds a use for some ideas
that she conceived while at Company A. She never
developed the ideas into an industrial process at
company A, and Company B is not in competition
with Company A; but she still wonders, whether
using those ideas at Company B is a violation of the
agreement she had with Company A. She has an
uneasy feeling that she is in a gray area and
wonders where to draw the line between the
legitimate and illegitimate use of knowledge. How
should she proceed?

What does the NSPE code say about disclosure of business and trade secrets?

NSPE III.4:

Engineers shall not disclose confidential


information concerning the business affairs
or technical processes of any present or
former client or employer without his
consent.

Example page 63 (or 67):


Negative Paradigm
(clearly wrong)

test case

Positive Paradigm
(clearly acceptable)

Signed Agreement
X
Permission Granted
A and B competitors
X
A and B not competitors
Ideas jointly developed
X
Amandas Ideas only
Ideas developed on job
X
Ideas dev. off job
Used As lab Equipment
X
As equipment not used
Others
..
(Is the situation in question more like the action is clearly right? or
Is the situation in question more like the action is clearly wrong)
*some negative and positive features may be more important than others (heavily
weighted!!)

Complexities of the line drawing technique


general points need to be made (reading)

Pages 62-64 (or 68-69)

Conflicting Values:
Creative Middle Way Solutions
There are situations when two or more
moral rules or duties seem to apply and
when they appear to imply different and
incompatible moral judgments.
This situation arises in engineering ethics.
Sometimes when we take a closer look at
these situations we may find that one value
clearly has a higher priority than the other
THEN WE HAVE AN EASY CHOICE.
Example: p64 (common morality)

Creative Middle Way Solution Sample Case:


(page 67-68 or 71-72 )
Brad is in the second year of his first full time job
after graduating from Engineering Tech. He enjoys
design, but he is becoming increasingly concerned
that his work is not being adequately checked by
more experienced engineers. He has been assigned
to assist in the design of a number of projects that
involve issues of public safety, such as schools and
overhead walkways between buildings. He has
already spoken to his supervisor, whose engineering
competence he respects, and he has been told that
more experienced engineers check his work. Later,
he discovers that his work is often not adequately
checked. Instead, his drawings are stamped and
passed on to the contractor. Sometimes the smaller
projects he designs are under construction within a
few weeks after the designs are complete.

At this point Brad calls one of his former


professors at Engineering Tech for advice.
I am really scared that Im going to kill
someone, Brad says. I try to over-design,
but the projects Im being assigned to are
becoming increasingly difficult. What should
I do? Brads professor tells him that he
cannot ethically continue on his present
course, for he is engaging in engineering
work that surpasses his qualifications and
may endanger the public.
What Should Brad Do?

What does NSPE canon 1 and 4 Say


Engineers, in the fulfillment of their
professional duties, shall:
Canon 1: Hold, paramount the safety, health
and welfare of the public in performance of
their professional duties.
Canon 4: Act in professional matters for each
employer or client as faithful agents or
trustees.

(Brads obligation to his employer conflict with


obligations to public)

Seeking a creative middle way


involves:
looking for a way to resolve
conflicting values that comes as close
as possible to satisfying all relevant
obligations.
Judgment and creativity are at a premium in
this kind of activity.
Note that: THERE ARE NO EASY FORMULAE FOR
RESOLVING PROBLEMS USING THESE TECHNIQUES!
(line drawing and middle way solutions)

Easy Choice: sometimes a value seems to be much


more important than others we choose to honor the
more important.
In some cases we may be able to come up with a
solution to the conflicting values that enables us to
honor all of the relevant facts.
Sometimes we must make hard choices between
competing values.
**Its useful to create a range of solutions to the
conflict and first attempt to act in accordance with the
solution that most satisfactorily honors the competing
values.
LIST BRADs OPTIONS (P.68 or 72) and decide on
possible outcomes.

Procedure for dealing with conflicting ethical concerns


Factual, conceptual, application,
moral issues

Conflicting Obligations

Forward for
further analysis

Easy Choice

Find Creative
Middle Way
Hard Choice
Fig.3.3 Resolving Conflicts

R
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S
O
L
U
T
I
O
N

STOP

Feedback to factual,
conceptual, application,
and moral issues as
necessary