Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23, 2018
June 23, 2018
July 27, 2018
The Value of Ethics in Engineering: Hypotheses and Preliminary Data
What value do philosophical ethicists add to the practices of engineering ethics education? A substantial body of existing literature supports the intuitive hypothesis that topics in the social sciences, humanities, and the arts play important roles in engaging engineering students in professional and academic development. In the context of ethics, philosophers have regularly helped shape the theories, direction, and practices of engineering ethics education. One clear example is Michael Davis’ ongoing and thoughtful work since at least the early 1990’s that has helped engineers understand their own relationships to codes of ethics (1991), integrating ethics into engineering curricular space (2005), and the necessary role of non-engineers in defining and asking essential questions (2001).
Yet there is insufficient argument and little empirical work on the effectiveness and perceived value of these philosophical connections. In this paper, I develop the theoretical argument that engineering graduate students value ethics as an integral part of the practices of engineering, but mean by “ethics” something narrower and implicitly exclusive, focused on individual values and professional responsible conduct.
In support of this theoretical claim, initial empirical evidence was gathered from a unique pilot survey scale paralleling the PRESCOR scale for management (see Shafer 2006: 280 and Singhapakdi et al 1996) in its intent. This survey was administered to graduate engineering students, many of whom had responsible conduct training previously, and all of whom were enrolled in a single credit graduate seminar in engineering ethics. Evidence from that small survey sample suggests that engineering graduate students think that ethics is important to professional practice and that values play an important role in good science. However, it was unclear whether they also thought that professional ethicists played an important role in consideration of ethics within engineering: that is, engineers may value ethics but not ethicists. This distinction between ethics and the ethicist represents an expertise gap in engineering ethics. This question of the value of ethics and ethicists has been asked sparingly in other disciplines, from accounting (Ahadiat and Mackie 1993), to marketing (Singhapakdi et al 1995), to international management (Shafer et al 2006) yet has not been discussed within engineering or engineering education.
I conclude that this preliminary data encourages us to push for stronger empirical evidence whether or not philosophical ethicists do indeed add to the practices of engineering ethics education. Philosophers working in engineering education have work to do in further clarifying their roles and unique expertise. I propose that engineering ethics educators can overcome this expertise gap by focusing on collaborative partnerships between scientists and ethicists.
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Beever, J. (2018, June), The Value of Ethics in Engineering: Hypotheses and Preliminary Data Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/31136
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