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Engineering Ethics and Justice: How do they Relate?

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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 and Justice

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.587.1 - 22.587.11



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Paper Authors


William M. Jordan Baylor University

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William Jordan is the Mechanical Engineering Department Chair at Baylor University. He has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Metallurgical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, an M.A. degree in Theology from Denver Seminary, and a Ph.D. in mechanics and materials from Texas A&M University. He teaches materials related courses. He does work in the areas of entrepreneurship and appropriate technology in developing countries. He also writes and does research in the areas of engineering ethics and engineering education.

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Engineering Ethics and Justice: How do they Relate?AbstractEngineering professional societies have revised their ethics statements in recent years to includeadditional issues such as sustainability and environmental protection that were not in earlierstatements. These changes reflect changes in our society and changes in how engineers see theirrole in society. This paper will examine the issue of justice, and how/whether it should be inengineering ethics codes.One example of this issue was when members in the Engineering Ethics Division were requestedto aid A.S.E.E. in a revision of its ethics policy. We had substantial email discussions about howor whether to put topics such as justice in a society policy. No one argued for an unjust society.However, there was disagreement over whether or not engineers, as engineers, should have thisas part of their task. Some proposed that engineers, as citizens, should be concerned with justice,but that it was not part of their task as engineers.Even among engineers who are in agreement that promoting justice is part of their task, theremay be very big disagreements as to how to define justice. Some engineers would support a top-down approach, whereby they seek to change government policy on justice issues. Many ofthose who would use the term “social justice” may fall into this camp. Another approach is abottoms-up approach that seeks to work directly to empower poor people by using technology toimprove their lives.The author will use examples from his work in Central Africa, Central America and his localcommunity to show how engineers can use their skills with a bottoms-up approach to make realdifferences in the lives of poor people. As these people are economically empowered, theirhealth will improve, and they will have the time and energy to work for governmental policychanges in their communities. This approach is consistent with ethics codes which typically holdparamount the health and safety of the public. It is also consistent with a virtue ethics approachto ethics. Virtue ethics emphasizes that we should seek to become good people, and good peoplewill do what they can to help others in need.

Jordan, W. M. (2011, June), Engineering Ethics and Justice: How do they Relate? Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17868

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