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Combining Ethics And Design: Monsanto And Genetic Engineering

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.150.1 - 5.150.8



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Paper Authors

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Michael T. Hertz

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Luna P. Magpilli

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Michael E. Gorman

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

Session 3261

Combining Ethics and Design: Monsanto and Genetically-Modified Organisms

Michael E. Gorman, Michael Hertz & Luna P. Magpili

University of Virginia

One most unfortunate product is the type of engineer who does not realize that in order to apply the fruits of science for the benefit of mankind, he must not only grasp the principles of science, but must also know the needs and aspirations, the possibilities and the frailties, of those whom he would serve. (Vannevar Bush, quoted in Zachary, 1997, p. 70)

This paper will describe a case study we developed at the University of Virginia for teaching the social and ethical dimensions of technology to engineering students. The case study concerns Monsanto’s efforts to be a cutting-edge life-sciences company in agriculture, developing genetically-modified seeds. In order to understand the case study, one has to understand the program out of which it emerged.

A Graduate Option in Engineering, Ethics and Policy

At the University of Virginia, we have created a graduate option in Engineering and Ethics that links the Darden Business School, the Division of Technology, Culture and Communications and the Department of Systems Engineering. This engineering graduate option attempts to overcome the negative side effects of specialization and compartmentalization by building an intimate link between technical and ethical training. With support from the National Science Foundation1, we created a research and educational experience that focuses on producing engineering graduate students who will be able to understand the social and ethical dimensions of complex, heterogeneous technological systems. As part of their training, the students in this option produce case studies that emphasize ethical issues in the design process. Students then undertake a thesis that combines ethical and technical aspects of engineering by focusing on the case study.

Our goal is to turn out ethical professionals who are able to engage in moral imagination. According to Patricia Werhane, one of the key faculty in the option, moral imagination involves recognizing the role, scheme or mental model that one is adopting, disengaging from it and evaluating alternative perspectives and courses of action (Werhane, 1999).

1 The work in this paper was supported by the Social Dimensions of Engineering, Science and Technology program of the National Science Foundation (SBR-9618851) and also by summer research grants from the Colgate Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia and graduate fellowship funding from the School of Engineering & Applied Science at the University of Virginia.

Hertz, M. T., & Magpilli, L. P., & Gorman, M. E. (2000, June), Combining Ethics And Design: Monsanto And Genetic Engineering Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8213

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