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An Integrative Approach To Teaching Engineering Ethics

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Teaching Ethics II

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.223.1 - 12.223.7



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Paper Authors

author page

Christian Hipp University of South Carolina

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

An Integrative Approach to Teaching Engineering Ethics

I. Introduction

A survey of recent literature in engineering ethics education displays two major trends – references to the ABET EC2000 accreditation criteria and approaches to satisfy it. The EC2000 requires for engineers to understand their impact in social contexts both locally and globally by knowing and embracing their ethical responsibility. Thus, recent engineering ethics education literature displays the dialogue surrounding its content and delivery.

Exploring arguments about the content of engineering ethics education surpass the limits of this paper, and others have engaged in such.1 Thus, though arguable, I will assume that engineering ethics education should include the following: stimulate the moral imagination, recognize ethical issues, develop analytical skills, and promote ethical obligation and professional responsibility in each student.

The second prong of the dialogue considers pedagogical delivery whereby the content is related and the goals realized. A survey of recent literature displays four major strategies as educators endeavor to unpack the ABET criteria – micro-ethics, meta/macro-ethics, heuristics, and casuistry. However, these approaches entail a number of weaknesses that may thwart the overall purpose of engineering ethics education. Though not an exhaustive critique, this paper will briefly define and illustrate each approach followed by a brief criticism.

II. Problems With Current Approaches

A. Micro-ethics. Some also refer to this approach as a ‘minimalist’ approach. Very simply, this approach references a formulation of principles from a specific or general engineering profession whereby the engineering student applies the code to ethical dilemmas encountered. Whether referencing the NSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers generally or their professional society’s code specifically (e.g., Chemical, Electrical, Mechanical, etc.), the engineering student is told what his profession would (or should) do.

At least two weaknesses emerge from this approach. First, the engineering student will approach ethical dilemmas dependent upon the moral decisions of others. This weakness appears to deny their personal professional and ethical obligation and fails to promote their moral autonomy by examining moral beliefs as an individual and professional. Second, while the micro-ethic approach emphasizing professional moral codes helps to identify broad ethical responsibility as a professional, the approach obscures the complexity of moral dilemmas. For example, the NSPE Code requires professional engineers to “hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public.” Yet, there is no clarification regarding who and what ‘the public’ entails, if health references public health populations or individuals, what degree risk undermines safety, and a host of other ambiguities.

B. Macro/Meta-ethics. This approach seeks to present classical ethical theories from the history of moral philosophy that the engineering student can reference when encountering moral

Hipp, C. (2007, June), An Integrative Approach To Teaching Engineering Ethics Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2746

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