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Application of Classical Realist Philosophy Principles to Engineering Ethics

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Engineering Ethics Issues Part One

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.212.1 - 22.212.15



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Paper Authors


Claire Komives San Jose State University

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Claire Komives earned her Ph.D. degree at the University of Pittsburgh in Chemical Engineering. She worked at DuPont Research and Development before starting at San Jose State University, where she is currently an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering. She teaches Process Safety and Ethics currently. She took an interest in ethics when teaching a freshmen seminar course, Biotechnology and Ethics. Her research interests are in whole cell bioprocesses and biochemical engineering education. Moira Walsh received her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1998, where she studied "Freedom and Moral Development in Aristotle and Rousseau."
Following her Ph.D. she worked at Boston University's Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Culture as a Research Associate at and then as an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Boston College from 2000 to 2002. Currently she works as an Educational consultant at Murray Hill Place in New York City.

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Moira M. Walsh Independent Scholar

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Ph.D., Philosophy, University of Notre Dame, 1998.
Dr. Walsh worked at the Boston University Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character between 1995 and 2000, where she helped to create The National Schools of Character Awards evaluation rubric. She has taught ethics and philosophy at Notre Dame, Indiana University, Suffolk University, and Boston College.

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Application of Classical Realist Philosophy Principles to Engineering EthicsModern philosophical trends have influenced our society and culture in many ways. Tenets ofindividualism and relativism have led to viewing education as a commodity that is purchased andis valuable for eventual employment and obtaining a higher income. Aspects of personaldevelopment as well as the ability to “give back to society” through one’s profession may beintroduced in a course here and there or brought up by advisors or religious-based student clubs,but these are normally viewed as a secondary merit of education. Likewise, ethics education isoften based on a utilitarian approach, namely – the best possible outcome for the most people.However, this strategy does not address the need for making ethical decisions that impactindividuals or conflicts in professional situations.The principles of Aristotelian philosophy continue to resonate with people, even when they havebeen rejected by many of the philosophers of recent times. The ancients recognized the existenceof reality outside ourselves that we must identify and evaluate through a combination of senseinputs and reasoning by our intellect. Specifically, engineering design is data driven, and thus anethical system that is likewise data driven is both practical and meaningful. In addition, theclassical realist principles point to the existence of a common human nature and help identifysome common moral norms upon which we can base our ethical decisions. Indeed, the ancientphilosophy also recognizes that the process of serving others and giving back to society throughour professional work is a good and can lead to personal happiness and satisfaction in life.A series of lectures and assignments have been developed to teach undergraduate students theprinciples of the classical realist philosophy as it relates to engineering ethics. Bothutilitarianism and skeptical philosophical-based ethics approaches are compared for validity withthe principles of Aristotle’s ethics. The paper will include a summary of the principle tenets ofAristotle’s ethics as they apply for engineering cases, some comparison with the utilitarianapproach, as well as both qualitative and quantitative assessment of student learning. Submit an abstract of 300 words or less, along with the required contact information, on thefollowing page of this website. Abstracts should clearly present the relevance of the paper for engineering education, how thework is innovative, and how the work connects to the conference theme. Abstract should include  Brief description of research problem  Significance of work  Description of approach, technique, or methods used  Results  No references If your abstract is accepted, submit a complete paper for peer review by March 19, 2007. If your paper is accepted, submit a final version including any required revisions by May 25,2007. At least one author is expected to register for and participate in the full conference.NOTE_ WE NEED TO FILL THIS PART IN TOOThe categories presented below describe the content associated with high quality contributions for the Frontiers inEducation Conference. Please choose the category that best describes your article. Note that all articles shoulddemonstrate clearly that they are informed by the engineering education literature by citing and describing thepresented work in the context of related scholarly work. Scholarly Teaching: The article provides a detailed description of innovative curricular activities or activities. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: The article provides a detailed description of innovative curricularactivities or activities that includes: a design based on educational or learning theory and assessment of effectivenessof the activity or activities. The article should specifically reference theories of how students learn engineering (e.g.,constructivism and/or cognitive models of learning). Engineering Education Research: The article describes a study that is centered on a clearly stated researchquestion and includes analysis of quantitative and/or qualitative data. Educational or learning theory is used todesign the study and explain the results. Other: Reviews, theory papers, case studies, position papers, and other articles that present frontier ideas thatdo not fit into the above categories. Please use your own words to describe it.

Komives, C., & Walsh, M. M. (2011, June), Application of Classical Realist Philosophy Principles to Engineering Ethics Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17493

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