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What is Gained by Articulating Non-canonical Engineering Ethics Canons?

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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

Non-Canonical Canons of Engineering Ethics

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society, Engineering Ethics, and Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1723.1 - 26.1723.16



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Paper Authors


Donna M Riley Virginia Tech

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Donna Riley is Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech.

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Amy E. Slaton Drexel University (Eng. & Eng. Tech.)

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Amy E. Slaton is a Professor of History at Drexel University. She writes on issues of identity in STEM education and labor, and is the author of _Race, Rigor and Selectivity in U.S. Engineering: The History of an Occupational Color Line_.

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Joseph R. Herkert Arizona State University

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Joseph R. Herkert, D.Sc., is Lincoln Associate Professor of Ethics and Technology (Emeritus) in the School of Letters and Sciences and the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes, Arizona State University and Visiting Scholar at the Genetic Engineering & Society Center, North Carolina State University. Herkert has been teaching engineering ethics and science, technology and society courses for more than 25 years. He is editor of Social, Ethical and Policy Implications of Engineering: Selected Readings (Wiley/IEEE Press, 2000) and co-editor of The Growing Gap between Emerging Technologies and Legal-Ethical Oversight: The Pacing Problem (Springer, 2011), and has published numerous articles on engineering ethics and societal implications of technology in engineering, law, social science, and applied-ethics journals. Herkert previously served as Editor of IEEE Technology and Society Magazine and as an Associate Editor of Engineering Studies. He is or has been an active leader in many professional organizations including the Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum, the Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT) of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the National Institute for Engineering Ethics, and the Engineering Ethics and Liberal Education/Engineering and Society (LEES) Divisions of the American Society for Engineering Education. In 2005 Herkert received the Sterling Olmsted Award, the highest honor bestowed by LEES, for “making significant contributions in the teaching and administering of liberal education in engineering education.” Herkert is a Senior Member of IEEE and served a three-year term on the IEEE Ethics and Member Conduct Committee. He was recently elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Herkert received his BS in Electrical Engineering from Southern Methodist University and his doctorate in Engineering & Policy from Washington University in St. Louis.

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What is gained by articulating non-canonical engineering ethics canons? As organizers of the special session on non-canonical canons in engineering ethics, weexplore in this paper the processes by which professional societies develop Codes of Ethics, andhow institutional power shapes both processes and outcomes. In analyzing specific episodes ofcanon formation, such as the process that resulted in the omission of sustainability from theASEE Code of Ethics (despite a separate ASEE board statement on sustainable development in1999), and the process that resulted in the recent addition of sexual orientation, gender identity,and gender expression in the IEEE Code of Ethics, we hope to reveal the ways in which ethicalwork in engineering (as in other settings) is always preceded by demarcation of boundaries. Whocounts as a moral agent? Who is subject to the code? Does the code imply collective as well asindividual responsibility? Who has standing to raise concerns? Who has clout to shape the code? Moving from analysis to action, this paper explores what it means to create an alternative,a “shadow code” that lives outside the canonical articulation of engineering ethics byprofessional societies. Such an alternative or non-canonical list might directly reframe existingpriorities (say, inserting health or sustainability concerns across a wide range of ethicalinstructions for engineers) or introduce entirely new, previously unspeakable priorities (say, thenotion that in any given case of engineering practice, the most ethical action may be to choosenot to undertake an engineering project in that time or place). While we might count it a victory for some of the non-canonical canons to move, in time,into the accepted professional society codes, that is the not the primary purpose of creating thisalternative stream of ideals in engineering ethics. Rather we hope to illuminate the politicalnature of the process, the ways insider-outsider dynamics play out in professional societies, andthe contestation of what counts and does not count as engineering.

Riley, D. M., & Slaton, A. E., & Herkert, J. R. (2015, June), What is Gained by Articulating Non-canonical Engineering Ethics Canons? Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.25059

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