Deciding on Ethical Issues in Engineering Design

  • Anke Van Gorp
  • Ibo Van de Poel

Engineers make decisions concerning ethical issues like safety and sustainability in design processes. We argue that the way in which engineers deal with such ethical issues depends on the kind of design process they carry out. Vincenti distinguishes between normal and radical design. In normal design processes the operational principle and normal configuration are given, in radical design processes they are not given. We present four case-studies of actual design processes: two processes of normal design and two of radical design. We show that in the normal design processes, engineers use what we call regulative frameworks to make ethical decisions. Regulative frameworks consist of legislation and technical standards, and interpretations thereof by certifying organizations. Operationalizations of ethical criteria are given in these regulative frameworks. Regulative frameworks also define some minimal requirements on safety and sustainability that the product should meet. In the radical design processes, such frameworks are absent or difficult to apply. Morally warranted trust in engineers can therefore not be based on regulative frameworks in the case of radical design; for radical design a different basis is needed on which to base such trust.


Design Process Ethical Issue Regulative Framework Radical Design Operational Principle 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anke Van Gorp
  • Ibo Van de Poel
    • 1
  1. 1.Delft University of TechnologyNetherlands

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