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A Virtue Ethics Approach To Engineering Ethics

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Questions of Identity

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.142.1 - 11.142.11



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Paper Authors


William Jordan Baylor University

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WILLIAM JORDAN is Professor and Department Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Baylor University. He has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Metallurgical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. He has an M.A. degree in Theology from Denver Seminary. His Ph.D. was in mechanics and materials engineering from Texas A & M University. He teaches materials oriented courses and his main research area deals with the mechanical behavior of composite materials. He also writes and does research in the areas of engineering ethics and engineering education. He is a registered metallurgical engineer in the state of Louisiana.

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

A Virtue Ethics Approach to Engineering Ethics


Engineering educators have a responsibility to promote the ethical practice of engineering by our graduates. For current students this includes how honest is their academic work. This paper deals with how to motivate the students to be ethical in their academic work as well as in their future careers.

Professors need to develop a way to motivate students to behave in an ethical manner. Simply reciting what the codes of conduct say does not appear to be sufficient. A significant approach to do this has been done by Seebauer and Barry1. They have integrated a virtue ethics approach into teaching about engineering ethics. Using their book as an inspiration, this paper attempts to develop a virtue based engineering ethic that will be seen by students as useful. To do this a virtue ethics approach will be applied to codes of conduct as well as a few case studies. Someone who has adopted a virtue ethics approach will have an internal motivation to make good choices in most situations.


The author has previously reported on using case studies as a way to teach engineering ethics2,3,4. Engineering codes of conduct were used as a basis to evaluate the cases. While cases studies have real merit, by themselves they do not give sufficient guidance as to which decisions to make in a given situation. Codes of conduct can be useful in giving such guidance. While codes may have a legal authority, some students have questioned the moral authority of the codes. Therefore the next step was to analyze engineering codes of conduct using different moral theories5.

There is a concern that many engineering students see all of this analysis as too theoretical. They frequently make decisions without regard to official codes of conduct. This was noticed in our previous work where student perspectives on academic misconduct were analyzed6,7 . A large majority of our students claimed they have never cheated. A similar large majority admitted that they do things that are a violation of the professor’s academic misconduct standard. It appears that many students have adopted a post-modern perspective on ethical behavior. They claim they are not cheating because they are obeying their definition of what cheating is; the professor’s stated policy on cheating is not important. This conclusion has significant bearing on the sufficiency of ethical codes of conduct. Students need to have an internal motivation to make good choices. We therefore decided to relate moral theories directly to the decision making process8. While this may provide help for students unwilling to use the codes as standards, it does not ultimately deal with the issue of providing an internal motive to do what is right.

Jordan, W. (2006, June), A Virtue Ethics Approach To Engineering Ethics Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--595

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