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Ethics Education as Philosophical History for Engineers

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Engineering Ethics Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.684.1 - 26.684.21



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Paper Authors


Daniel J. Biezad P.E. California Polytechnic State University

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Daniel J. Biezad is professor emeritus in the aerospace engineering department of the College of Engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly). He received the B.S. in electrical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT-1966), the M.S. in astronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT-1972), and the Ph.D. in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Purdue University (1984).

He has received the Outstanding Scholar Award from Cal Poly with a cash prize of $1500, along with three other teaching and research cash awards plus student council recognition for outstanding service. He has been chair of the aerospace engineering department at Cal Poly (2001-2004), the associate dean of AFIT (1988-1989), and chair of the electrical engineering dept. at AFIT (1986-1987). He is an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and a senior member of the IEEE. Dr. Biezad has authored a book published in 1999 in the AIAA Education Series titled Integrated Navigation and Guidance Systems, along with 70 technical articles, book chapters on systems identification, three magazine articles, and eight journal publications. He has taught short courses in satellite navigation and integrated aircraft systems to the Navy at China Lake and Pt Mugu Naval Air Stations, the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, and to the national AIAA guidance and control conference.

Dr. Biezad has over 4,700 hours of flight experience in both fixed-wing and rotorcraft including pilot instructor duties at the Air Force Test Pilot School, Edwards Air Force Base, California.

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Ethics Education as Philosophical History for Engineers  Ethics education in the engineering curriculum is required by ABET. This requirement is beingmet in an aerospace engineering department at a major university by an unconventional approachwhich is intended to have a lasting impact on engineering graduates throughout their workingcareer. All professions have common codes of competence, integrity, and intended good willtowards humanity. Often the codes call for internal regulation and constraint to guard againsthuman nature’s inclinations. Here, instead of relying solely on student exposure to a particularcode of ethics involving case studies of ethical situations, historical vignettes of philosophy andmathematics are presented as part of a senior engineering class in intermittent bursts of weeklystorytelling that last approximately ten minutes with the intent of showing the evolution of ethicsfrom antiquity to the present day. The goal is to compliment information about ethics with philosophical history in a way thatgenerates lasting internalized student concern about engineering ethics. The technique focuses onpresenting philosophical and mathematical topics both familiar and interesting to the engineeringstudent from the nature of a technical education, especially topics of interest to femaleengineering students, and to relate the topics to the evolution of our shared morality. Selected topics have two primary characteristics. First, their history exposes a relationshipbetween a particular philosophy in a given era and the accompanying development ofmathematics; for example, the relationship between the philosophy of Pythagoras and rationalnumbers in ancient Greek culture. Second, a chosen topic must be a link in the historicalevolution of the underlying basis for moral behavior in Western culture following theEnlightenment; for example, the evolving concept of the number zero or of mathematical limitsin parallel with the evolving primacy of scientific reasoning. The topics are limited to Westernvignettes not to ignore or minimize ethical progress in other cultures, many of which areincluded as strong positive influences on Western ideas, but to constrain presentations torelatively familiar narratives within the time limits of a single course.  True stories, myths, and interesting cultural situations can highlight how prevailing norms ofmorality have emerged episodically in Western culture, including the origins of moral codes inthe Axial Age; how Greek culture influenced them; how they evolved into the ethics of theEnlightenment through the mathematics and philosophies of Galileo, Newton, Leibniz, andSpinoza; and finally, how today the resulting codes precariously stand as ethical standards basedon reason alone when viewed through the philosophical ideas of Immanuel Kant and JohnLocke. Surveys given before and after the class showed that the engineering students appreciated thehistorical mathematical and philosophical focus on ethics, and that they felt better prepared forsignificant ethical challenges they may encounter. Their comments labelled this approach as bothinteresting and unique, and they enjoyed the linkage to many subjects normally confined to thehumanities. Their recommendations were noted positively in preparation for an ABET visit.SURVEY SUMMARY DATA (8 Conclusions)

Biezad, D. J. (2015, June), Ethics Education as Philosophical History for Engineers Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24021

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