Introducing Survival Ethics into Engineering Education and Practice
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Given the possibilities of synthetic biology, weapons of mass destruction and global climate change, humans may achieve the capacity globally to alter life. This crisis calls for an ethics that furnishes effective motives to take global action necessary for survival. We propose a research program for understanding why ethical principles change across time and culture. We also propose provisional motives and methods for reaching global consensus on engineering field ethics. Current interdisciplinary research in ethics, psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary theory grounds these proposals. Experimental ethics, the application of scientific principles to ethical studies, provides a model for developing policies to advance solutions. A growing literature proposes evolutionary explanations for moral development. Connecting these approaches necessitates an experimental or scientific ethics that deliberately examines theories of morality for reliability. To illustrate how such an approach works, we cover three areas. The first section analyzes cross-cultural ethical systems in light of evolutionary theory. While such research is in its early stages, its assumptions entail consequences for engineering education. The second section discusses Howard University and University of Puerto Rico/Mayagüez (UPRM) courses that bring ethicists together with scientists and engineers to unite ethical theory and practice. We include a syllabus for engineering and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) ethics courses and a checklist model for translating educational theory and practice into community action. The model is based on aviation, medicine and engineering practice. The third and concluding section illustrates Howard University and UPRM efforts to translate engineering educational theory into community action. Multidisciplinary teams of engineering students and instructors take their expertise from the classroom to global communities to examine further the ethicality of prospective technologies and the decision-making processes that lead to them.
KeywordsPhilosophy of engineering Survival ethics Checklist model Cross-cultural ethics Multidisciplinary education Appropriate technology
This research was supported in part by the following: U.S. Department of Education, Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education, P116N060032: Ethical and Public Policy Issues in the Sciences; National Science Foundation (NSF), PHY 1033028 MPS: Graduate Research and Education for Appropriate Technology; NSF DUE 9952448 CCLI: Environmental Studies Curriculum Development; NSF DBI 0405151 UMEB: Howard University Environmental Biology Scholars; NSF DBI 9423947 REU: Ecological Research in the Southwestern U.S. and its Relevance to Environmental Policy.
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