Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 663–679 | Cite as

A Pragmatic Approach to Ethical Decision-Making in Engineering Practice: Characteristics, Evaluation Criteria, and Implications for Instruction and Assessment

  • Qin ZhuEmail author
  • Brent K. Jesiek
Original Paper


This paper begins by reviewing dominant themes in current teaching of professional ethics in engineering education. In contrast to more traditional approaches that simulate ethical practice by using ethical theories to reason through micro-level ethical dilemmas, this paper proposes a pragmatic approach to ethics that places more emphasis on the practical plausibility of ethical decision-making. In addition to the quality of ethical justification, the value of a moral action also depends on its effectiveness in solving an ethical dilemma, cultivating healthy working relationships, negotiating existing organizational cultures, and achieving contextual plausibility in everyday professional practice. This paper uses a cross-cultural ethics scenario to further elaborate how a pragmatic approach can help us rethink ethical reasoning, as well as ethics instruction and assessment. This paper is expected to be of interest to educators eager to improve the ability of engineers and other professional students to effectively and appropriately deal with the kinds of everyday ethical issues they will likely face in their careers.


Pragmatic ethics Engineering ethics Ethics education Ethics assessment Scenario-based education 



We would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments which significantly improved the quality of this paper. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 17th International Conference on Ethics Across the Curriculum in Greenville, South Carolina, October 8–10, 2015. These materials are based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1160455. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in these materials 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 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ethics Across Campus Program, Division of Liberal Arts and International StudiesColorado School of MinesGoldenUSA
  2. 2.School of Engineering EducationPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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