Exploring the dialectic between abstract rules and concrete facts: Operationalizing principles and cases in engineering ethics
Abstract rules and specific fact situations interact in a highly complex fashion in engineering ethics, a weak analytic domain. In such domains, the construction of arguments or explanations does not rely on formal methods or proofs. Rather, experienced reasoners appear to address problems by applying ethical principles using a variety of techniques. In our study of a national engineering society's set of engineering ethics cases decided by an ethical review board, we have identified a number of operationalization techniques which help to fill the gap between abstract principles and specific case facts and which help to analyze new problems. Our goal is to develop a computational model that is capable of retrieving and applying operationalizations for the purpose of making accurate predictions of the facts, principles, and past cases that would be regarded as important in the analysis of new cases. In this paper, we present a preliminary design of such a model and outline an experiment to test it. We expect to make a contribution to interpretive case-based reasoning (CBR) by shedding light on the role of principles in decision making, by investigating the connection between abstract rules and concrete facts, and by testing the feasibility of using detailed, factual chronologies to represent cases.
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