A New Chapter – Engineering Ethics

So I’m off on another chapter in my short and sporadic blogging career – a class in engineering ethics.  I’m actually quite enthused about the class and its pedagogy.

I was inspired earlier today by the stories of Palchinsky and Cuny told in the first chapter of Harris et al. (2009).  In addition to being top notch engineers, these men devoted much of their lives to helping people.  They observed need within their workplace or world and then acted within their capabilities as engineers to alleviate that need, in both cases to their own ultimate peril.  We too seldom in engineering are encouraged to consider the plight of those who have received less privilege than ourselves, or how our engineering decisions can have an impact to change those circumstances.

Another point in the Harris book also struck me, regarding the importance of case studies in fields like engineering.  Our problems are real and use oriented.  They impact real people and are inherently not abstract.  Yet too often we approach ethics from an ivory tower with moral theory and philosophical posturing.  The study of real case studies helps us to break that temptation and live in the concrete reality of complicated situations in a messed-up world.  I’m especially excited about exploring this through the two case studies in this class.  Pedagogically speaking, I’m intrigued by the idea of plunging students into a case like that in Tonawanda and am curious to see how this immersion-type learning actually works out in person.


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