International Journal of Ethics Education

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 169–179 | Cite as

Engineering ethics education, ethical leadership, and Confucian ethics



Ethical leadership skills are crucial for professionally competent engineers working in a global context. This article explores the possibility of integrating a non-Western ethical tradition of Confucian ethics into the teaching of ethical leadership in engineering ethics. First comes a brief discussion of the historical origins of Confucianism and its persistence in contemporary Chinese culture. Second is a conceptualization of the major aspects of Confucian ethical leadership including moral power, role modeling, and meritocratic ethical leadership, introducing a prevalent approach to developing ethical leadership in the Confucian tradition: self-cultivation. The practice of self-cultivation often includes three interrelated processes: observation, reflection, and practice. The Confucian development of ethical leadership goes through four different moral psychological stages: beginner, developing learner, junzi, and sage. Finally, I discuss potential implications of the Confucian understanding of ethical leadership for teaching engineering ethics.


Confucian ethics Ethical leadership Self-cultivation Engineering ethics Ethics education 



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 19th Annual Conference of the Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, October 5-7, 2017. Part of the section “Confucianism: Past and Present” was adapted from my review of the book Confucianism: A Very Short Introduction which was published in the journal China Report, volume 51, issue 3, 2015. The author would like to thank Carl Mitcham for his constructive comments which helped improve the quality of this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ethics Across Campus Program, Division of Humanities, Arts & Social SciencesColorado School of MinesGoldenUSA

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