, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 415-428

The application of ethics to engineering and the engineer’s moral responsibility: Perspectives for a research agenda

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Abstract

There are different possibilities for defining the areas for the application of ethics to engineering. They range from descriptive analysis of engineers’ relationship to moral criteria and extend to normative issues on how engineers should design more “sustainable” technology. In this paper, a frame of reference is proposed, which makes it possible to elaborate in a transparent manner goals for analysis of the scope of ethics in engineering. Its point of departure is marked by two questions: 1) which types of situation in the practice of engineering require ethical reflection? and 2) to what extent are engineers expected to assume moral responsibility in the practice of their profession? The answers to both of these questions presuppose reflection on the societal processes of setting definitions and of making ascriptions. Understanding these processes of societal “construction” of demands for ethical reflection in engineering and of engineers’ moral responsibilities should be an important objective of the analysis of ethics in engineering.

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the International Symposium on Technology and Society 2000 (ISTAS 2000), Rome, Italy, 8 September 2000.