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A Macro Ethic For Engineering

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Trends in Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.66.1 - 8.66.8



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Paper Authors

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James Russell

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Walter Peters

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2072


James A. Russell, Wally Peters

Department of Mechanical Engineering University of South Carolina


William Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), called for a macro- ethic for engineering at the 2000 NAE Annual Meeting citing the impossibility of predicting the behavior of complex systems and the dangers that we bring on ourselves by continuing to unconsciously engineer the biosphere. As human engineered systems and their impacts on earth systems have grown larger and as knowledge has grown from research in complex systems and general systems theory, it has become clear that non-linearity, discontinuous behavior, and uncertainty are the rule rather than the exception in all complex systems including earth systems.1 The trunk of the tree of knowledge must now be ethics, especially when designing systems that interact with natural systems. In engineering, this fundamental conceptual change can be represented as a macro-ethic.

This paper lays the foundation for a fundamental macro-ethic that can guide engineering decision making in the future. The conceptual framework for the macro-ethic is based on the work of two environmental philosophers Aldo Leopold and J. Baird Callicott. Leopold created the concept of “the land ethic” which Callicott subsequently modified and extended with his creation of the “modified land ethic.”2,3 This paper explains the macro-ethic and how it can be applied by engineers and gives guidance and suggestions to educators to help them present the concepts to students. Guidance and suggestions to educators appears as italicized text in the paper. The guidance and suggestions has been developed through teaching undergraduate and graduate classes on topics including industrial ecology, sustainable design and development, and complex systems study and design. The courses were cross-listed with the College of Engineering and the virtual School of the Environment. This allowed the classes to draw diverse, multidisciplinary groups of students including civil, chemical, and mechanical engineering students from the School of Engineering and MEERM students (masters of earth and environmental resources management) from diverse undergraduate backgrounds including business, geography, biology, marine science, and geology. Student evaluations repeatedly referred to the value of the critical thinking that the course format required of the students. The critical thinking component was carried out by having students read and write a critique of selected works prior to class followed by classroom discussion of the selected works and the student’s critiques moderated by the instructor. This format seemed to offer great opportunities for critical thinking.

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Russell, J., & Peters, W. (2003, June), A Macro Ethic For Engineering Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11997

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