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Work-in-Progress: Preliminary Results from a Survey of Moral Foundations Across Engineering Subdisciplines

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Engineering Ethics Division Technical Session - Ethics Decision-Making

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

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Paper Authors


Jonathan Beever University of Central Florida Orcid 16x16

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Jonathan Beever is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and faculty with the Texts & Technology Program at The University of Central Florida. He has held postdoctoral positions with Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute and with Purdue University’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering before joining UCF. Jonathan works and publishes on questions of ethics, science, and representation. He teaches a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate courses on ethics and related topics.

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Laurie A. Pinkert University of Central Florida

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Laurie A. Pinkert is an Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida. Her research examines the role of communication practices and writing infrastructures in disciplinary development within fields such as engineering. She teaches a range of graduate and undergraduate courses for students within writing studies and across disciplines.

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Student perception of ethics and ethical decision-making skills have been widely studied within engineering ethics, often as components of a larger project of ethics enculturation or the development of moral literacy within a student’s discipline. Yet little is known about whether and to what extent ethics enculturation is linked to the moral foundations that describe the implicit values through which individuals orient themselves to problems. In this work-in- progress paper, we report preliminary findings regarding the extent to which members of engineering subdisciplines at one large research university share moral foundations. In fall 2018, the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ), a validated survey instrument, was administered to stakeholders across engineering subdisciplines. The survey of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students provides a baseline for the moral foundations of engineers across and within a range of engineering subdisciplines. Our objective is to analyze whether and to what degree “moral foundations” are shared within these subdisciplinary cultures. We hypothesize that the variance in moral foundations among engineering stakeholders will be significant and that the moral foundations of members within a specific subdiscipline will be more closely shared than with those outside the subdiscipline. The Moral Foundations Questionnaire provides respondents with a scaled response to their reliance on and endorsement of a refined set of five moral foundations: 1) harm/care, 2) fairness/reciprocity, 3) ingroup/loyalty, 4) authority/respect, and 5) purity/sanctity. These sets are grounded in moral foundations theory, which is committed to the principle that enculturation moves us into patterns of ethical judgment that are not necessarily or solely rational. We examine results in and between members of engineering subdisciplines. By examining individual moral foundations, this project considers the implicit, often non-rational roles that values play in ethical orientation. This institution specific analysis provides proof of concept through preliminary data in support of a larger multi-institutional research project in the future.

Beever, J., & Pinkert, L. A. (2019, June), Work-in-Progress: Preliminary Results from a Survey of Moral Foundations Across Engineering Subdisciplines Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33667

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