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Using Moral Theories To Evaluate Engineering Codes Of Conduct

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Moral Theories and Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.1266.1 - 7.1266.13



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Paper Authors

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William Jordan

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Stan Napper

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Bill Elmore

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Session 3261

Using Moral Theories to Evaluate Engineering Codes of Conduct

William Jordan, Bill Elmore and Stan Napper College of Engineering and Science Louisiana Tech University


In this paper we will use several moral theories to analyze the legitimacy of engineering codes of conduct. We believe this is an issue that has been neglected in many engineering ethics studies.

Traditionally, one of several approaches to engineering ethics is used in practical decision making. One approach to engineering ethics concentrates on case studies. Case studies may be useful, but are not sufficient to provide a questioning engineer with help in making decisions. Even if the engineer has a library of many case studies, it is likely that a given situation will be enough different so that a direct transfer from the case study cannot be made. A second approach to engineering ethics examines major issues an engineer might face. This approach has some usefulness, but it can often be so general its results cannot be easily applied. A third approach to engineering ethics examines decision making skills. While such skills can be very helpful, there is a limit to their usefulness. For example, when using a technique such as line drawing, there are still issues of who gets to draw the line of acceptable behavior, and what is the basis for drawing the line at a given point.

All decisions within the engineering ethics domain fundamentally appeal to an authoritative source. One common authority is the engineering code of conduct. The various professional societies have all adapted codes of conduct. So have the state boards of registration. The state boards have the power of government behind their rules and their rules need to be treated with respect. However, we believe we need to ask the question of whether these codes of conduct are sufficient in themselves to be used as a basis for engineering ethics decision making.

In this paper we analyze the legitimacy of these codes of conduct. Are they really a sufficient basis upon which to build an engineering career? We will analyze a generic code of conduct (the one developed by the National Society of Professional Engineers). We will use four different types of moral theories to make this analysis. 1. Utilitarian theories. 2. Duty theories. 3. Rights theories.

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright ©2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Jordan, W., & Napper, S., & Elmore, B. (2002, June), Using Moral Theories To Evaluate Engineering Codes Of Conduct Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10062

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