Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 519–538 | Cite as

The Responsibilities of Engineers

  • Justin Smith
  • Paolo Gardoni
  • Colleen MurphyEmail author
Original Paper


Knowledge of the responsibilities of engineers is the foundation for answering ethical questions about the work of engineers. This paper defines the responsibilities of engineers by considering what constitutes the nature of engineering as a particular form of activity. Specifically, this paper focuses on the ethical responsibilities of engineers qua engineers. Such responsibilities refer to the duties acquired in virtue of being a member of a group. We examine the practice of engineering, drawing on the idea of practices developed by philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, and show how the idea of a practice is important for identifying and justifying the responsibilities of engineers. To demonstrate the contribution that knowledge of the responsibilities of engineers makes to engineering ethics, a case study from structural engineering is discussed. The discussion of the failure of the Sleipner A Platform off the coast of Norway in 1991 demonstrates how the responsibilities of engineers can be derived from knowledge of the nature of engineering and its context.


Responsibility Sleipner A Platform Standards MacIntyre Tradition 



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1260863. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Walter P MooreHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Civil EngineeringUniversity of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 3118 Newmark Civil Engineering LaboratoryUrbanaUSA
  3. 3.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Illinois Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA

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