Module 2: Codes of Ethics - University of Washington

Module 2: Codes of Ethics - University of Washington

Major Ethics Case Studies Focus on the major technological disasters and catastrophes in engineering Module 4 in the Teaching Engineering Ethics Series Outline of Material Major Ethical Impact = Macro-ethics Ethics as a Design Problem Micro-ethics (the individual and the situation) Macro-ethics (systemic issues) Engineer as a Moral Agent Analogies: Design and Ethics Decisions

Case: The Space Shuttle Challenger Macro-Ethical Issues Safety, Loss of Life, Catastrophic Failures Typically Newsworthy Items The Space Shuttle Challenger* BhopalUnion Carbide* The Ford Pinto Firestone and Ford Explorer tires Three Mile Island / Chernobyl Nuclear Reactors Kansas City Hyatt Suspended Walkway Boston Molasses Tank Accident* Indicative of systemic problems (beyond simple

engineering and day-to-day ethics) Ethics as a Design Problem The engineer as a moral agent Moral problems Design Process are practical problems (they demand a response) are not multiple-choice problems Recognize and Evaluate the Problem Devise solutions Evaluate solutions Choose from the alternatives

The devise solutions phase is typically shortchanged in the ethics judgment process or artificially constrained to a limited set of alternatives Ethics as a Design Problem How ethics sound bites oversimplify the ethical reasoning process: Do the right thing Should [the agent] do X or Y Portrays the problem as having an exclusive solution set Portrays the problem as a binary multiple-choice solution set with no latitude for creating alternatives

Exploits a limited win-lose or lose-win paradigm There are no right or wrong answers Indicative of a moral relativism philosophy or simply that there is no uniquely correct solution In reality, there can be solutions that are better than others and which can be prioritized Also, solutions can each comprise a unique and special advantage Ethics as a Design Problem What solutions sets exist for a given set of specifications or ethical constraints? Solution Set Population Wrong Solutions Probability Always No Solution

Possible One Single Exclusive and Acceptable Solution Unlikely Multiple Solutions: All Equally Acceptable Possible Multiple Solutions: Orthogonal Acceptability Very Likely Ethics as a Design Problem Lessons from design problems: Consider the Uncertainties in the Situation Ambiguities often underemphasized in professional ethics Decisions to be made:

Whether to gather additional evidence How to address the issues with others How to elicit support for the moral concern Determining possible solutions is separate from defining the problem and may require more information Time Pressure is real and demands searching for multiple alternative solutions in parallel The ethical situation may be dynamically changing; decisions should not be made on an old snapshot of the situation

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