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Business and Engineering Ethics

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Abstract

In every profession, there are guidelines and rules that are always put. These are always supposed to offer the directions that are to be followed by the specific members of that profession. Ethics are always very important in shaping the way professionals carry out themselves in their lines of duty and beyond. Professional ethics of conduct are always vital in the achievement of decency and standard in the various professions. Ethics are usually tied to the philosophical aspect because they majorly deal with the presentation and the social structuring of the professions. Ethics do spell out the dos and the don’ts that are attributed to a particular profession. Through the ethics, the various professions are always able to uphold a common standard. Davis (1998) observes that ethics form an important aspect of every profession.

Introduction

Engineering ethics is majorly professional ethics which is different from personal morality. The engineering ethics do set the standards for professional practice and is always learnt in professional schools or through professional practices. The engineering ethics forms an integral part of professional education as it assists the learners to be able to deal with various issues that they are bound to face in professional practice. In order to teach engineering ethics effectively, there is need to use cases that are more likely to be experienced by an engineer and not just the cases of disaster that do make news. There are a lot cases that are available and various ways of analyzing these cases too. Engineering ethics can also be viewed as a free standing profession though there have been a lot of arguments concerning the introduction of ethics as a technical course as well to complement engineering. Engineering is what is done by the engineers and which do have a lot of profound effects on the other people in the society. Professional ethics do deal with the subject of how members in a profession are always supposed to, or are not supposed to behave and affect others as pertains to their professional practice. Engineering ethics then forms a crucial aspect of the engineering itself thus the need to have education related to professional responsibilities in the engineering’s professional education just as is always the case in medicine and law. These philosophical views may be disregarded by some engineering educators in their engineering education because it is different when it comes to the implementation aspect of the views. In trying to develop a philosophical argument on engineering ethics, I will explore the meaning of engineering ethics and my views on its relevance.

Engineering ethics

There is always a clear difference that exists between professional ethics and morality. In this case, morality refers to the set standards of conduct that usually apply to everyone in the society and not to a particular or special group of people. Basically, these standards are usually ideal for everyone and even if everyone follows them and then it would mean that they would be doing the same thing. Such moral rules include rules like we should not kill, we should keep our promise, and we should not steal among others. However, these universal ethics known as morals do have exceptional like in cases of defending oneself. More often than not, we do tend to change the views of such rules such that we have our own interpretation. (Davis, 1998. b)

In some circumstances, we do lie by not necessarily saying anything false but by deliberately omitting some information that may have led to the better understanding of the issue we were explaining to others. Morality do apply to everyone and is practiced and taught in bits from the time a child starts comprehending his or her environment all through during the schooling period. This continues to further age.

However, Bowen (2009) states that ethics do apply to a specific group and affect the members of that group simply because they belong to that specific group. For instance, medical ethics are always applied by those in medicine and do not include anybody outside that bracket; those strictly in business are always affected by business ethics. Engineering ethics therefore do apply strictly to the engineers and not any other person who is outside the profession of engineering. Moreover, there are specific standards that characterize the ethics of engineering that are always taught. These standards do vary from the less formal practices, various codes of ethics and the formal applications. These do determine the way different generations of engineers do their things. In this case, no one can easily understand or learn about the engineering ethics unless those who are lucky to have a father or mother who is practicing engineering or unless the student goes to learn in an engineering school or while he/she is practicing engineering. The engineering ethics basically refer to what is known by the engineers to be the safety factors and the procedures of testing. The engineering ethics may also refer to designing ways that achieve desired levels in the economy, durability and reliability aspects. Consequently, I term the engineering ethics to be part of that thinking like an engineer and thus teaching of engineering ethics forms that part of teaching engineering itself.

Philosophy and engineering

There has not been much attention paid to engineering by philosophy. However, this should not be an excuse for engineers to ignore the important aspect of philosophy in engineering. Philosophical concepts are very important to engineering for various purposes. Engineers need to understand philosophy in order to be able to defend themselves against criticisms that are philosophically based. The engineers are fond of ignoring the very important aspect of philosophical engineering. The engineers also need the application of philosophy, an especially ethics, in order to be in a position to solve some of the ethical challenges that do present themselves in the engineering profession. Through the understanding of ethical issues, the engineers are able to achieve self-understanding for a better working. As much as there is a perception that philosophy is less important to engineering, I aim at reversing this perception and proving otherwise.

Engineering students and those who apply engineering services who dismiss the importance of philosophy in engineering do make mistakes that are both professionally and historically unjustified. I also would wish to present the importance of engineering to philosophy and eventually castigate the philosophers for probably undermining the importance of engineering in philosophy. Philosophy would be more important to engineering than it is currently if philosophy was set to be in order. Despite the fact that philosophy greatly ignores and disregards engineering, engineering still depends heavily on philosophical concepts. This argument is further supported by the aspects that are important in the engineering experience.

Historically, engineering has tended to use philosophy as armor against philosophical criticism. There were even some efforts to incorporate philosophy into engineering studies by the professional engineering community in the United States of America. Despite all these however, there has been a relationship that has deepened between philosophies and engineering in this world that id fast growing into an engineered world. In my own view, engineers are the philosophers of postmodern world but are usually unacknowledged.

Engineering and theory

The coming together of engineering and science has made the modern world to be distinctive. The empirical and philosophical approaches have answered some of the difficult questions that could not be understood through using philosophy and pure reasoning. There was a radical breakthrough in technology as evident by the introduction of the internal combustion engine and the refrigerator. This was achieved through the science of thermodynamics. Through the science based on aerodynamics, there were advances made towards the designing of aircrafts. There are various philosophical issues that have arisen in respect to engineering. This is because there has been basically the need to get an understanding of engineering as a human activity. In order to develop the philosophy of anything, it is prudent that we first understand what that particular thing is. More often, engineering is seen as a form of designing which involves changes using available resources. Engineering ethics have been crafted as a branch of philosophical engineering and contains the details of ethics in relations to engineering practices. This analysis is theoretically built and differentiated from the classical views of philosophers like Plato.

Engineering has been used over the years in the creation of various technologies and in offering solutions to diverse types of problems that are related to hygiene and health. Through engineering, there has been cure and treatment for disease, helped in advancing transportation, housing, agriculture, education among other fields. This has been possibly achieved because of the commitment and dedication of engineers who have been in the research fields working towards innovations and discovery. In this respect, the engineers have succeeded in creating and sophisticating various weapons that have been used in mass destruction and in injuring very large number of people over a very short time, caused environmental destructions and wastages of the natural resources.

Through the engineering ethics, the engineers can effectively utilize their innovation and creativity in solving some of the problems. I also think that they can further be useful in terms of the development of many amenities and facilities for others and themselves. Philosophically, possessing the strong morality and ethics can steer the engineers to control their activities while ensuring that the environmental and societal interests are safeguarded. Inner satisfaction and the peace of mind can be achieved through engineering ethics and the application of human values by the engineers. This will ultimately amount to the creation of personal happiness which is the final wish for all humans. In this view, I presume that the role of the engineers in the society is to participate in the development of the society through observation of the engineers’ ethics.

In exploring the philosophical aspects of engineering ethics, I would like to bring on focus the need of creation of impact and relevance among engineers. In the application of technology in engineering, there is need for the engineers to have in mind the ethical considerations and the effects of the end products of the technological advancement. As much as there is always some content on ethics in the study of engineering at the undergraduate levels, there lies a challenge of actualizing these concepts and relating them on the fields. There have been complexities in ethical issues related to innovation and technological development with the increase of interaction among people and regions as a result of globalization.

The engineers, engineering organizations and the engineering professions need to be involved in order to address the arising critical issues. Despite the fact that engineering is very important in positively influencing our lives, it also comes with some negative influences if misused. The engineers thus have a social responsibility to structure the processes to ensure that there is positive influence gained from their professionalism through the engineering ethics. I believe that all the engineers can be branded as the creators of technologies and hence have an ethical responsibility to make the best out of it despite looming conflicts and pressure presented by their professional responsibilities. In a broader perspective, engineers should recognize the importance of engineering and natural science in shaping the societal powers and the life of humans presently and in the future. This is a responsibility that should be taken by the engineers and they should ensure that they put into practice the various aspects of ethics despite being in conflict with their professional responsibilities. (Bowen, 2009. b)

Engineering and Ontology

Philosophy and engineering are disciplines that do share a lot of reflexive and abstract attitudes. Mostly, engineering do apply the use of philosophy in dealing with the issues of ethics. Moreover, the applications of ontology in engineering do add up to creating insight and mutual help in engineering. The abstractness of ontology is so pronounced that it deals with the principle of the application of everything theory in all the places. This works on a framework that is categorical for all the subject matter.

Business-Related Ethical Issues in Engineering

In most cases, engineering has been related to business. A lot of engineers are currently being involved in businesses. They are involved in starting up companies which make engineering decisions as well as business decisions. Large firms are currently integrating the development products cycles and are bringing engineers into the marketing field with other people in businesses. I think it is now time for the engineers to start considering ethical issues more than any other time. The ethical new issues in which the engineers must operate has now spread with the advancement and fast growth characterized in the e-commerce and in biotechnology. There have been a lot of issues that have brought business ethics in the lives of engineers, their professionalism as far as management is concerned, safety and quality, international business ethics and ultimately their intellectual property.

I further think that there is need to have professionalism as far as business and engineering is concerned. From the 19th century, engineering was considered as a profession in the West.

This was achieved by the fact that there were engineering societies which were very instrumental in the provision of codes of conducts that were professional. These societies were also responsible for certifying the engineers. However, there aren’t any criteria for certifying business managers. In fact, I tend to think that management is not a profession and that those who excel in it just have passion and skills to be good managers. In the same breath, when engineers get into business, they are more likely to lose the ethics that are required in business because they do not learn about management in engineering. Engineers may be entangled in situations as managers which may require them to seek legal redress or assistance. This is as a result of the lapse that exists in the engineers’ ethics. The dilemma of the engineer may not be addressed by legal considerations alone. There may be circumstances when the engineer may be in a situation of not knowing how to handle the situation where the firm acts in an illegal manner. This therefore calls for knowledge of management by the engineers in order to be able to address the challenges.

Ethical view

The importance of ethics cannot be overlooked in the engineering profession. This is because there is need of preparedness in the handling of scandals, disasters and tragedies. It is inevitable for the engineers to learn from the past mistakes. It is further important to note that the media do like bad news as it is always the big news for them and this is the reason as to why most of the media entities do allude to negativities about the engineering ethics. This is the basic reason as to why there should be comprehensive understanding and the application of the engineering ethics. Ethics will also be instrumental in the achievement of assessment of disasters for the engineers instead of having to rely on public surveys and the coverage by the media. There is need to poses ethical imaginations among the engineers if they are to effectively address the challenges presented by ethical problems.

Ethical analysis in engineering

There have been several ways that have been applied in the analysis of ethics. The analysis of ethics needs to be done in relation to various cases. There are two main methods that should be applied by engineers in the analysis of ethical issues. These concepts are supposed to be based on expressions that are commonly used in our everyday life in talking about the moral problems that face the society.

The first method is based on the famous expression of drawing the line. The analysis of ethical issues should be extended to the unacceptable and acceptable action. For instance, the engineers are often faced by tricky circumstances when they are offered gifts by the various vendors that they deal with. It has also been a challenge in establishing where the line is supposed to be drawn. These challenges have been experienced in the trying to achieve the professional ethical codes of conducts that are required. Conflict is yet another mode of analysis of the ethical issues. Being in conflict over an issue does mean that we are torn in between two situations in which we are always supposed to take a stand or make a decision. This eventually amounts to conflict resolution. (Buckeridge, 1994)           

The essence of engineering complements that of philosophy. As much as the philosophers do want to take credit for the knowledge of nature of the unseen world, then they should also agree to the fact that engineering takes credit to the practical world as well as science taking credit for the theoretical world. I believe that just like the scientist, engineers also are credited for the production of knowledge. Engineering deals with the application of theories from science into solving problems that are practical. Basically, there is also a possibility of developing engineering practices and applying the successfully without necessarily having to apply the theoretical knowledge from sciences. For instance, engineers observe that James Watt was behind the devising of the steam engine which was later perfected as a result of the advancement in thermodynamics. The understanding of how the steam engines function was later realized through explanations and Carnot was later to explain that through thermodynamics. We cannot insist that the engineers worked on this from the theories but it is true that they did so from their own knowledge without depending on this theory. This is simply because the knowledge was practically executed and not theoretically executed. The knowledge was purely engineer-based and was not the proportional knowledge that could even be put down to paper.

Engineering has been working to establish a know how culture and it is in that same spirit that we can use elevators, get water from the taps, commute while going to work, use the internet among other things. This engineering knowledge, though not distinctively different from the scientific knowledge wholly, is different from theoretical knowledge. In my view, both engineering and theoretical scientific knowledge do blur. This is so because in engineering, there is a lot of theory development while practical form the major aspects of experimental science. Essentially, theorizing the knowledge about humans must involve the practical aspect alongside the scientific theory.

Ethical pessimism

I think that the pessimistic nature of the engineers makes them better than scientists. This pessimism is as a result of their ethical code of conduct. This is basically because engineering has a different scrapheap from that of scientists. In my evaluation, it is notable that the development of a new design like an aircraft does not necessarily mean the death of the previous designs to the engineering. The change is usually in the materials used, the space of the craft, its speed, the designs or its speed. This is always done on planes that are already existed and does not necessarily mean that the initial plane fails to work. Engineers are philosophically based on improvising and improving on the designs that are available. This developmental philosophy of engineering is evident for example in the communications sector. The introduction of the internet and use of e mails did not render the use of telephones irrelevant. Engineering ensures that the new technology is developed to work alongside the initially old technology in a supplementary manner. (Schlossberger, 1993)

I further think that engineering ethics lead to the application of knowledge that is practical and more secure as opposed to scientific knowledge which is always theoretical. Eventually, applied knowledge like applied engineering, applied theoretical science and pure engineering does clear philosophical doubts contrary to theoretical knowledge.

It is empirical to note that most of the knowledge that is applied in the current world is based on practical thus elevating engineering above theoretical science. The knowledge of engineering is important in the sense that it is always practical and is always shared by various design teams, corporations and researchers. In engineering, there are always certain instances when several people are always tasked to work on various aspects of a particular thing especially in projects that are always complex. This is practically evident in the manufacture of the Airbus A380 which is currently the largest passenger plane in the world. The plane was developed by several engineering experts across various parts of Europe. The manufacture of the plane included a lot of processes that included construction and testing. It was more evident to the fact that the manufacture of such an enormous craft involved a lot of delays in its delivery. Moreover, the knowledge of constructing such a huge plane was not mooted by an individual or a single team but it was as a result of extensive deliberations, designs and exploration of various databases. (Whitbeck, 2011)

In engineering knowledge, it is eminent that there is great importance in the ideas and that it is always not a making of an individual. This fact is vital in the address of the skeptics that is attributed to knowledge in general.

The philosophy of engineering

Engineering has over the times evolved into logic. In that same sense, the transformation of materials by chemistry has been vital in the operation of offices and houses. Through engineering, there has been the introduction of computers that have aided in automating designs for easier solutions without much stresses. This has eventually led to the existence of a standard solution of designs of all the current things. Presently, there has been a dramatic improvement in as much as innovations are concerned. Engineering faces hardly any challenges as far as its designs are concerned while business students are always exposed to green economy and a sense of social responsibility. There is always a tendency of underpinning of philosophy by students yet philosophy should guide them in as far as the use of logic of using complex materials such as plastic is concerned. Engineering is always based on the philosophy that slower processes do result to higher retention thus increasing the rate of retention. In this case, more space is often achieved. On the other hand, engineering believes that fast processes do require more energy thus less space is often needed. This eventually dos increase the competitive process. The philosophy of engineering is always based on efficiency that is known and using machinery that is well known.

Engineering is all about building on the established fundamentals as opposed to changing the fundamentals. The philosophy of engineering is that the established fundamentals do provide the base for further development and betterment. However, I think that it is time that engineering should initiate and introduce new principles that will one day be used as fundamentals in principles and that will be built on just as they have been building on other fundamentals. This should one day culminate to new engineering principles. This will further see into it that there is a new look in innovation that will eventually steer the society in the direction of sustainability and health vis-à-vis establishing a capacity to be in a position to respond to various basic needs for everyone on the society. (Whitbeck, 2011. b)            

Engineering being both a business and a profession basically takes considerations for ethical practices. These ethics do come handy in determining the way engineers relate to others and the stakeholders in various engineering projects. In viewing engineering as a business, there is need to consider the ethical dimensions. This incorporates the relationship that exists therein between responsibilities and values and the day to day practices in engineering. Engineering is also based on thinking that is practical and that has its framework on decision making that is ethically guided. Moreover, the engineering as a business has had to conform to the ethics that relate to the environment. In this case, engineering seeks to handle the conflicts that result and that are related to the environment. Engineering should also integrate its practices the global corporate responsibility as part of its ethics. This responsibility should accommodate diversity and values in order to prepare the engineers to be in a position to handle the challenges that are ethical and that are related to the 21st century. (Schlossberger, 1993. b)

Conclusion

Engineering has its own ethics of professional conduct that govern the conduct of the engineers and those related to the engineering profession. In the above argument, it is clear that engineering applies a lot of philosophy in its actualization. However, philosophy has in a long time ignored the importance of engineering. Despite this fact, engineering has still and is still considering philosophy as an important aspect in its development. In engineering, there are a lot of philosophical implications as ethics are part of philosophy. It is also clear that engineering builds from fundamental facts thus lack the engineering philosophy while on the other hand philosophy introduces new issues and disregards the old ones. Consequently, engineering applies a lot of practicality as opposed to relying on theories. Engineering is also a business thus prompting the importance of the knowledge about management among engineers. Finally, ethics cannot be underestimated as being important aspect of the engineering discipline.

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