Changing the Paradigm for Engineering Ethics

Science and Engineering Ethics 20 (4):985-1010 (2014)
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Modern philosophy recognizes two major ethical theories: deontology, which encourages adherence to rules and fulfillment of duties or obligations; and consequentialism, which evaluates morally significant actions strictly on the basis of their actual or anticipated outcomes. Both involve the systematic application of universal abstract principles, reflecting the culturally dominant paradigm of technical rationality. Professional societies promulgate codes of ethics with which engineers are expected to comply, while courts and the public generally assign liability to engineers primarily in accordance with the results of their work, whether intended or unintended. A third option, prominent in ancient philosophy, has reemerged recently: virtue ethics, which recognizes that sensitivity to context and practical judgment are indispensable in particular concrete situations, and therefore rightly focuses on the person who acts, rather than the action itself. Beneficial character traits—i.e., virtues—are identified within a specific social practice in light of the internal goods that are unique to it. This paper proposes a comprehensive framework for implementing virtue ethics within engineering



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