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21.1: Ethics

  • Page ID
    46483
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    Ethics is a very difficult subject to explain in a brief presentation as there are nuances to ethics especially with regards to the law and employee and employer relationship. What do you do if an employer asks you to do something wrong? Report it, but how do you keep your job? It is true you most likely will lose your job in this case, so what do you do? What is the right recourse? As you see this is not easy.

    It is your responsibility as a citizen of the world to be ethical and report ethical violations. Will it be hard? Yes. It is possible you will be unemployed but there is a possibility that an ethical business will "come to your rescue."

    So what is ethics at any rate? First let us look at the engineering code of ethics presented by the National Society of Professional Engineers. While this is stated to be an engineering code of ethics it really can apply to any profession. This basically boils down to what you should have learned when you were a child: Don't lie, don't cheat, don't blame it on the other person, and take responsibility for your actions. It is pretty simple at a basic level, but the nuances are the things that go beyond the child. Still follow the rules you should have learned as a child.

    Two statements in the fundamental canon needs some additional discussion.

    • Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall perform services only in areas of their competence.

    This is absolutely true, but note it says PERFORM, not discuss or talk about. If you see something in a presentation that is incorrect by, say, an optical engineer and you are a mechanical engineer, by all means TELL the person even if you are technically not competent in his field. As a matter a fact, in real world meetings a lot of people not competent in a particular field ask questions and suggest things. They could be wrong, but that presents the optical engineer a chance to educate them, or they could have a point and the optical engineer can say "thank you, I will revisit my calculations and get a better solution, I appreciate you actively listening to me so we can get a solution to our common problem."

    Please ask questions! It is not unethical to do this ever!

    • Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees.

    This is technically not a true ethics issue but it is the right thing to do at least up to a point. Looking for another job could be construed as being unfaithful to your employer, but this is NOT unethical. Ethically it would be akin to some form of indentured servitude if you did not have freedom to look for a job. That would be unethical. Obviously the authors did not intend this to be restrictive like that, but this is why there are nuances to ethical issues and why it really takes a complete course on ethics at your junior or senior year. Therefore this is all that will be said here. Do read the Code of Ethics as it is the best presentation of ethics for engineers, but remember that there will be nuances; and never do something you know is wrong.

    For a kids prospective it is recommended that you watch the TV series Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! where Wubbzy seems like a businessman with an unclear definition of ethics; Widget, clearly, is an engineer, and Walden is a scientist or science-oriented creature, who both have a more clear definition of ethics. Ethics are best learned as a child, not as an adult because what we learn as a child influences us for life...it is very difficult to change an adult's ethics (not impossible though).

    Engineering disasters have been related to unethical practices by either engineers or managers but not all engineering disasters are due to unethical practices. Some disasters are just bad management models, hence the next section: group dynamics.

    Most professional engineering sites have a Code of Ethics paper or section (see Wikipedia's section for links) which you should read especially for your discipline. Reading other disciplines as well as yours would be even better. Nuances should be discussed in a course with an engineer who is also a lawyer as these subjects are intermingled and a good understanding from a true professional is necessary. It is suggested that this be done in person (or over web meeting software).

    Ok that's it for ethics for this course.


    21.1: Ethics is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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