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1 A Framework for Thinking Ethically Learning Objectives: Students completing the ethics unit within the first-year engineering program will be able to: 1) Define the term ethics and identify sources of a person s ethics. 2) State why professions like engineering have their ownn codes of ethics and how they might be used. 3) Implement a structured approach to addressing an ethical dilemma as may occur for a student or professional engineer. We all have an image of ourselves - of how we are whenn we act ethically or are "at our best. " We probably also have an image of what an ethical community, an ethical business, an ethical government, an ethical engineering practice or an ethicall society should be. Ethics really has to do with all these levels, a) acting ethically as individuals, b) creating ethical organizations and governments, and c) making our society as a whole ethical in the way it treats everyone. What is Ethics? Simply stated, ethics refers to standards of behavior that tell us how human beings ought to act in the many situations in which they find themselves-as friends, parents, children, citizens, business people, teachers, professionals, and so on. It is helpful to identify what ethics is NOT: Ethics is not the same as feelings. Feelings provide important information for our ethical choices. Some people have highly developed habits that make them feel bad when they do something wrong, but many people feel good even though they are doing something wrong. And often our feelings will tell us it is uncomfortable to do the right thing if it is hard. Ethics is not religion. Many people are not religious, but ethics applies to everyone. Most religions do advocate high ethical standards but sometimes do not addresss all the types of problems we face. Ethics is not just following the law. A good system of law does incorporate many ethical standards, but law can deviatee from what is ethical. Law can become ethically 1

2 corrupt, as some totalitarian regimes have made it. Law can be a functionn of power alone and designed to serve the interests of narrow groups. Law may have a difficult time designing or enforcing standards in some important areas, and may be slow to address new problems. Ethics is not following culturally accepted norms. Some cultures are quite ethical, but others become corrupt -or blind to certain ethical concerns (as the United States was to slavery beforee the Civil War). "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" is not a satisfactory ethical standard. Ethics is not science. Social and natural science can provide important data to help us make better ethical choices. But science alone does not tell uss what we ought to do. Science may provide an explanation for what humans are like. But ethics provides reasons for how humans ought to act. And just because something is scientifically or technologically possible, it may not be ethical to do it. Why Identifying Ethical Standards is Hard? There are two fundamental problems in identifying the ethical standards we are to follow: 1. On what foundation do we base our ethical standards? 2. How do those standards get applied to specific situations we face? If our ethics are not based on feelings, religion, law, accepted social practice, or science, what are they based on? Many philosophers and ethicists have helped us answer this critical question. They have suggested at least five different sources of ethical standards we should use. Five Sources of Ethical Standards The Utilitarian Approach Some ethicists emphasizee that the ethical action is the one that provides the most good or does the least harm, or, to put it another way, produces the greatest balance of good over harm. The ethical corporate action, then, is the one that produces the greatest good and does the least harm for all who are affected-customers, employees, shareholders, the community, and thee environment. For example, ethical warfare balances the good achieved in ending terrorism with the harm done to all parties through death, injuries, and destruction. The utilitarian approach deals with consequences; it tries both to increasee the good done and to reduce the harm done. 2

3 The Rights Approach Other philosophers and ethicists suggest that the ethical action is the one that best protects and respects the moral rights of those affected. This approach starts from the belief that humans have a dignity based on their human nature per se or on their ability to choose freely what they do with their lives. On the basis of such dignity, they have a right to be treated as ends and not merely as means to other ends. The list of moral rights -including the rights to make one's own choices about what kind of life to lead, to be told the truth, not to be injured, to a degree of privacy, and so on-is widely debated; some now argue that non-humans have rights, too. Also, it is often saidd that rights imply duties-in particular, the duty to respect others' rights. The Fairnesss or Justice Approach Aristotle and other Greek philosophers have contributed to the idea that all individuals should be treated equally. Today we use this idea to say that ethical actions treat all human beings equally-or if unequally, then fairly based on some standard that is defensible. As an example, consider we if pay people more based on their harder work or the greater amount that they contribute to an organization, and say that is fair. But there iss a debate over CEO salaries that are hundreds of times larger than the pay of others; many ask whether the huge disparity is based on a defensible standard or whether it is the result of an imbalance of power and hence is unfair. The Common Good Approach Greek philosophers have also contributed to the notion that life in community is a "good" that is shared and beneficial for all (or most) members of a given community in itself and our actions should contribute to that life. This approach suggests that the interlocking relationships of society are the basis of ethical reasoning and that respect and compassion for alll others-especially the vulnerable-are requirements s of such reasoning. This approach also calls attentionn to the common conditions that are important to the welfare of everyone. This may be a system of laws, effectivee 3

4 police and fire departments, health care, a public educational system, or even public recreational areas. The issues of should taxes support education could be framed as a common good debate. The Virtue Approach A very ancient approach to ethics is that ethical actions ought to be consistent with certain ideal virtues that provide for the full development of our humanity. These virtues are dispositions and habits that enable us to act according to the highest potential of our character and on behalf of values like truth and beauty. Honesty, courage, compassion, generosity, tolerance, love, fidelity, integrity, fairness, self-control, and prudence are all examples of virtues. Virtue ethics asks of any action, "What kind of person will I become if I do this?" or " Is this action consistent with my acting at my best?" Each of these approaches can help us determine which behaviors can be considered ethical. What is Engineering Ethics? Many professions, engineering included, have codes of ethics which are intendedd to assist members of the profession. Engineers take seriously their responsibility not just for the quality of the jobs but for the safely and well-being of the public. The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) has been the profession s most respected voice on the practice of ethical engineering. The following is extracted from the NSPE Code of Ethics found at /resources/ethics/code-ethics. This short summary is intended d to give you a sample of one resource available to you as ann engineering student and later as a practicing engineer. Please review it carefully. Codes of ethics are created in the context of real life and in the face of existing ethical ambiguity. For this reason, codes of ethics created in response to actual or anticipated ethical conflicts are easier to understand in their application to real problems. 4

5 Extracted From - National Society of Professional Engineering Code of Ethics for Engineers Preamble Engineering is an important and learned profession. As members of this profession, engineers are expected to exhibit the highest standards of honesty and integrity. Engineering has a direct and vital impact on the quality of life for all people. Accordingly, the services provided by engineers require honesty, impartiality, fairness, and equity, and must be dedicated to the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare. Engineers must perform under a standard of professional behavior that requires adherence to the highest principles of ethical conduct. I. Fundamental Canons Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall: 1. Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public. 2. Perform services only in areas of their competence. 3. Issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner. 4. Act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees. 5. Avoid deceptive acts. 6. Conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of the profession. II. Rules of Practice Rules of Practice give examples of good practice for each of the Fundamental Canons. This section includes some for the first cannon as examples. 1. Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public. a. If engineers judgment is overruled under circumstances that endanger life or property, they shall notify their employer or client and such other authority as may be appropriate. b. Engineers shall approve only those engineering documents that are in conformity with applicable standards. c. Engineers shall not reveal facts, data, or information without the prior consent of the client or employer except as authorized or required by law or this Code. Much more detail and examples for each Rule of Practice and the following Professional Obligation are included in the full NSPE Code at III. Professional Obligations 1. Engineers shall be guided in all their relations by the highest standards of honesty and integrity. 2. Engineers shall at all times strive to serve the public interest. 3. Engineers shall avoid all conduct or practice that deceives the public. 5

6 4. Engineers shall not disclose, without consent, confidential information concerning the business affairs or technical processes of any present or former client or employer, or public body on which they serve. 5. Engineers shall not be influenced in their professional duties by conflicting interests. 6. Engineers shall not attempt to obtain employment or advancement or professional engagements by untruthfully criticizing other engineers, or by other improper or questionable methods. 7. Engineers shall not attempt to injure, maliciouslyy or falsely, directly or indirectly, the professional reputation, prospects, practice, or employment of other engineers. Engineers who believe others are guilty of unethical or illegal practice shall present such information to the properr authority for action. 8. Engineers shall accept personal responsibility forr their professional activities, provided, however, thatt engineers may seek indemnification for services arising out of their practice for other than gross negligence, where the engineer ss interests cannot otherwise be protected. 9. Engineers shall give credit for engineering work to those to whom credit is due, and will recognize the proprietary interests of others. How Are Good Decisions Made? Making good ethical decisions requires exploring the ethical aspects of a decision and weighing the considerations that should impact our choice of a course of action. Having a method for ethical decision making is absolutely essential. When practiced regularly, the method becomes so familiar that we work through it automatically without consulting the specific steps. The more novel and difficult the ethical choice we face, the more we need to rely on discussion and dialogue with others about the dilemma. Only by careful exploration of the problem, aided by the insights and different perspectives s of others, can we make good ethical choices in such situations. We have found the following framework for ethical decision making a useful method for exploring ethical dilemmas and identifying ethical courses of action. 6

7 Methodology for Resolving Ethical Dilemmas A. Identifying Potential Actions and Consequences 1. Students and professionals at work will face many ethicall dilemmas. These arise when there are multiple stakeholders whose interests need to be served. When the interests of stakeholders conflict, an ethical dilemma which must be resolved exists, good ethical practice requires thatt potential consequencess of any resolution should be determined before applying it. The methodology taught in this module emphasizes: Identifying the issues and points of ethical conflict for a given ethical dilemma, to provide a convincing ethical analysis, it is necessary to move beyond naming the issue (e.g., data ownership and access, plagiarism, etc.) to describing the nature of the moral conflict. Note that identifying the points of ethical conflict is often one of the hardest jobs in ethical analysis. 2. Identifying the interested parties or stakeholders, think of interested parties in progressively larger groupings, like in the figure providedd in the previous page illustrating how people, groups and entities are related to each other. Frequently, consideration of the interested parties will bring more issues to mind. 3. Identifying the potential actions and their consequences, and identify possible actions and those consequences that have a good probability of occurring, or those that may not have such a high probability of occurring,, but would have very serious implications. When considering consequence s, be sure to consider, in turn, each of the interested parties and the probable consequences of the proposed action on those parties. When considering actions and consequences to the protagonist, keep in mind that consequences may be positive or negative. 4. Identifying the duties or obligations of the protagonist [protagonist. leading figure: a main participant in an event] to each interested party before an action is taken. For each case, consider primarily the obligations of the protagonist toward the various interested parties. It iss sometimes tempting to dismiss the obligation of the protagonist when some other person fails to live up too his/her moral obligation. Also be sure to state why the professional has that duty. Keep in mind that given the right context and consequences, lack of technical competence can become a moral issue. Referring to your profession s code of ethics will then help clarify the obligations of people in your profession. When applying the four criteria, it is often helpful to have an organizing form or worksheet. A sample worksheet is illustrated following the next section. 7

8 B. Selecting the Best Action For each moral conflict or ethical dilemma encountered, there are four criteria used to judge the potential response: 1. Whether the response addresses each of the issues and points of ethical conflict. 2. Whether each interested party s legitimate expectations are considered. 3. Whether the consequences of acting are recognized, specifically described and incorporated into the decision. 4. Whether each of the duties or obligations of the protagonist are described and grounded in moral considerations. Moral considerations can be guided through approaches defined earlier by asking questions such as: a. Which option will produce the most good and do the least harm? (The Utilitarian Approach) b. Which option best respects the rights of all who have a stake? (The Rights Approach) c. Which option treats people equally or proportionately? (The Justice Approach) d. Which option best serves the community as a whole, not just some members? (The Common Good Approach) e. Which option leads me to act as the sort of person I want to be? (The Virtue Approach) This allows the protagonist to make the decision based on an organized approach and the best available information. Once all of these are considered and the dilemma s relevance to applicable codes of ethics and past cases are weighed in, an educated, well-thought decision can be reached, and hopefully one that is just. 8

9 Ethical Dilemma Worksheet Issues and Points of Ethical Conflict Interested Parties or Stakeholders Duties or Obligations of the Protagonist to Stakeholders The protagonist is Stakeholder 1 Obligations to Stakeholder Stakeholder 2 Obligations to Stakeholder Stakeholder 3 Obligations to Stakeholder Stakeholder 4 Obligations to Stakeholder Stakeholder 5 Obligations to Stakeholder Potential Actions and Their Consequences (Positive and Negative) Action A Positive Consequences Negative Consequences Action B Positive Consequences Negative Consequences Action C Positive Consequences Negative Consequences Action D Positive Consequences Negative Consequences Selected Action and Rationale (Include reference to NSPE Code of Ethics when applicable.) 9

10 Example Application of Method and Worksheet Please consider the following Case Description A woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to produce. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman's husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said: No, I discovered the drug and I'm going to make money from it. So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man's store to steal the drug for his wife. Should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Although each individual may see the case somewhat differently, a Completed Worksheet might look something like the following. Ethical Dilemma Worksheet Issues and Points of Ethical Conflict Should Heinz steal the drug from the pharmacy? Ethical issues include obedience to authority, role of self-interest in the decision, moral correctness verse law, responsibility to others. Interested Parties or Stakeholders Heinz Heinz s wife Druggist Friends of Heinz and wife Law Enforcement Duties or Obligations of the Protagonist to Stakeholders The protagonist is Heinz Stakeholder 1 - Heinz Stakeholder 2 Heinz Wife Stakeholder 3 - Druggist Stakeholder 4 Friends of Heinz and Wife Stakeholder 5 Legal System Obligations Support spouse in sickness and in health Be a law abiding citizen Obligations Help Heinz do the right thing Obligations Have business that continues to make a profit so he can make other new drugs Serve the public Obligations Help Heinz Support the law Obligations Administer the Law 10

11 Potential Actions and Their Consequences (Positive and Negative) Action A Heinz Steals Drug Positive Consequences Negative Consequences Wife lives Heinz is happy Wife now must figure out how to live without Heinz s support Friends feel bad Heinz goes to jail Action B Heinz does not steal Positive Consequences Negative Consequences drug Legal system is in tack Heinz does not go to jail Friends feel bad Wife dies Heinz get depressed due to loss of wife Action C Positive Consequences Negative Consequences Action D Positive Consequences Negative Consequences Selected Action and Rationale (Include reference to NSPE Code of Ethics when applicable.) Some possible answer you might give depending on your perspective: Heinz should not steal the medicine because he will consequently be put in prison which will mean he is a bad person. Rationale Virtue Approach, Heinz acts as the sort of person he wants to be. Heinz should not steal the medicine because prison is an awful place, and he would more likely languish in a jail cell than over his wife's death. Rationale the Justice approach, Heniz thinks this treats people equally and proportionally. Heinz should steal the medicine because everyone has a right to choose life, regardless of the law. Rationale Rights approach, Heinz thinks this best respects the rights of all who have a stake. 11

12 The following are credited as sources of this material: Bebeau, Muriel J. (1995). Moral Reasoning in Scientific Research. Cases for Teaching and Assessment. Indiana University. The Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science at Case Western Reserve University. Website. Available at National Society of Professional Engineers Ethics Website. Available at A Framework for Thinking Ethically. ETHICS 1, no. 2 (Winter 1988). 12

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