Defined as the study of moral issues and decisions, confronting individuals and organizations engaged in engineering, engineering ethics has grown to be a broad body of professional ethics delineating the moral character and ethical behavior of practicing engineers and their organizations. Among the chief issues of concerns drawn by engineering ethics is consideration of public interest, their safety, health and welfare, during the process of decision making and in the executing of the decisions. As the engineers act and undertake their duties, it is imperative that the society’s interests are not only esteemed, but incorporated within their plans from the onset. Public participation has been advocated for, particularly for large projects deemed to have huge and significant impacts on the community. To ensure that the engineers and the engineering firms involved adhere to solving the raised social concerns, and other regulations required to ensure future wellbeing of the society, honesty will be an integral virtue guiding engineering decisions made in the projects as well as the project actions (Babu 11). As outlined by the ethical theory of virtue ethics, honesty would ensure that moral responsibility and integrity is upheld in decisions and choices made by the engineers, guaranteeing public safety and social wellbeing for the concerned people.
Engineering ethics refers to the field and discipline of applied ethics, together with systems of moral values and principles that apply to engineering practices. Engineering ethics investigates, examines and outlines the obligation engineers have to their clients, the society and the profession. It ensures that these are clearly outlined to regulate professional practices and actions, as well as guide decision making processes by engineers. Engineering ethics can also be classified under professional ethics (Harris, Pritchard and Rabins 1). Code of conducts and ethics governing all engineering companies, societies and organization are derived from and have their basis in engineering ethics. This branch of applied ethics has the objective of capacitating the practicing engineers and organizations involved in the profession to be able to effectively confront and solve moral issues within the industry (Harris, Pritchard and Rabins 35). Like all other professions, issues dealing with morality and ethical dilemmas have been raised within this field, especially thorough technological activity, demanding reasonable, well informed and responsible decision making. Engineering ethics has wide scope that takes into consideration the global issues, responsibility of employers and the employees, their rights in addition to the clients’ rights (Harris, Pritchard and Rabins 23). It also considers the social aspects of engineering, and incorporates ethical theories and moral reasoning in engineering practices.
Engineering ethics takes great consideration of the society, its health and safety, taking into account all factors that likely to impact on the society’s welfare (Mandal 99). The welfare of the society is one the topics in this profession that is integral to decision making, influencing the choices made by the engineers as the projects are executed. This is issue is significant by virtue of the fact that, engineering decisions made during these projects would affect, either positively or negatively, the social life, economy, health, aspirations and general wellbeing of the members and society at large. Of great concern and key to this issue of concern is the fact that, the decisions or actions undertaken, should not negatively affect or even threaten the interest, security, happiness, safety, health and wellbeing of the society or community in question. Decisions made without considering this aspect, would likely lead to undesirable impacts, which would however, need to be relayed to the section of the society at risk (Babu 12).
Engineering ethics incorporates a wide range of ethical theories in its practice. Virtue ethics is one the main ethical theories playing a large role in engineering ethics (Baura 7). Virtue ethics regards the character and behavior of a moral agent, outlining its character as the source for ethical conduct and behavior. It emphasizes virtues, which are generally considered as the right within a given society and community. Virtue ethics portrays what is considered right as actions that are guided by virtues. Within engineering ethics, virtue ethics outlines ethical behavior for engineers, emphasizing actions to be undertaken in consideration to virtues esteemed by the society. Virtue ethics on the other hand, does not focus on the duties placed on the engineers or rules that are to be followed by all. On the contrary, it focuses on the actions together with decisions taken by an engineer, or a group of engineers in light of virtues and moral principles guiding the actions or decisions undertaken (Stanford.edu). It considers the engineer as a moral agent whose actions are to foster ethical and moral responsibility within the profession as well as the society. Virtue ethics also places less emphasis on the consequences and likely outcomes of the actions undertaken or decision made by the engineer, the moral agent in this case. Its center of attention rather would be whether the action or decision made considered moral virtues (Stanford.edu).
The moral virtues would include honesty, respect and charity. In outlining these virtues, this ethical theory points out the character and behavior of the moral agent in undertaking their duties, obligations and decisions as a driving force and motivating factor for ethical behavior. In regard to the topic of social welfare, virtue ethics would deem each action and decision agreed upon by the engineers to esteem the society and carry out their duties in honesty (Babu 11).
Virtue ethics is useful in its application within engineering ethics as it guides actions along identified virtues. Honesty is one of the integral virtues in this ethical theory, which engineers should hold and consciously maintain in their professional practice. This can be illustrated with the topic of concern; social welfare, health and safety. In holding the public interest, the engineers would have to be honest in their practice and continually ensure their decisions are aligned to this moral obligation (Harris, Pritchard and Rabins 117). In keeping with the principal guidelines issued by the society of civil engineers for example, a firm should deem the need to consider the public’s health, safety, and welfare as paramount, with the knowledge that this would not only be the right thing to do, but also their obligation as moral agents. Following the same virtue of honesty would translate to the truth being communicated to the public when wrong decisions made, pose possible hazards and danger to safety, security, health and public wellbeing.
Argument against this position of sticking to the moral virtue of honesty, mainly focus on the situation when being honest would tend to bring negative effect on the engineer, the engineering company or firm and the entire engineering profession. Such can involve cases where making huge profits took precedence over public safety, with substandard structures subsequently built (Harris, Pritchard and Rabins 92). Whistle blowing, many would argue, does more damage than good when such unethical decisions are exposed t the public.
If all engineers adopt this ethical virtue and uphold it to the utmost extent in their practice, illegal practices within the industry, as well as corruption would greatly decrease beyond the level of concern, if not completely done away with. This would also ensure public participation within such projects and their concerns would be deemed essential and incorporated within the engineering project cycle. Espousing honesty would guarantee that public interest and welfare will be integral in engineering decisions made, ascertain the public of future safety and general wellbeing as they utilize the structures constructed and the innovated technologies produced.
Advocating for honesty and adopting this as a chief virtue, guiding professional decisions at all times as outlined by engineering ethics, would ensure that unethical practices are effectively eradicated within the profession (Baura 12). One drawback that may not be considered as such by ethicists is the public communication of details about wrong decisions made by the professionals. This would likely impact negatively on the image of the engineering profession and destroy public confidence when incriminating information is made known to the public. Espousing honesty, as encouraged by engineering ethics and moral reasoning, will always ensure that engineering practices and project actions are carried out in accordance to the appropriate ethical values and consideration of societal needs.