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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 State of the Art in Engineering Ethics
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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 Methodologies for Case Studies in Engineering Ethics CHARLES E. (ED) HARRIS Texas A&M University The methodology presented in this paper has two aspects: analytical and problem-resolution. The analytical aspect suggests concepts for identifying the types of issues in a case—factual issues, conceptual issues, application issues, and moral issues. The problem-resolution aspect involves “bottom-up” techniques and “top-down” techniques. Bottom-up techniques rely on moral intuitions rather than moral theories. These methods include weighing, casuistry, and finding a creative middle way. Top-down methods appeal to a general moral theory and are sometimes useful in applied ethics. Both methods are familiar in Western philosophy as utilitarianism and the ethics of respect for persons. Most education in ethics and professional responsibility relies heavily on case studies. This is true of medical, legal, nursing, veterinary, dental, and business ethics. It is also true of engineering ethics. Students in my large classes in engineering ethics (approximately 600 each semester) often tell me that their favorite part of the course is the case studies, reflecting the practical orientation that characterizes all professionals. The ethical and professional concerns of people who defend clients in court, treat people who are sick, manage companies, fill teeth, operate on pets, and design bridges can best be addressed by way of cases that focus on activities relevant to their usual activities. I find it useful to divide cases into three categories: micro-cases, macro-cases, and exemplary cases. Broadly defined, micro-cases are cases in which an individual professional makes decisions involving ethical or professional concerns. These decisions may have a limited impact or a wide-ranging impact. For example, John must decide whether he will accept a rather large gift from a
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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 supplier. Alison must decide whether she is going to take part in a project that is environmentally destructive. Macro-cases typically involve social policies, legislation, governmental administrative decisions, or the setting of policies for professional societies. In engineering, these policies usually have to do with the impact of technology on society. How should privacy be protected with respect to computers? How should computer crimes be treated? What kind of intellectual property rights should be granted to the creators of software? What policies should engineering societies adopt with respect to the environment? Should the cloning of human beings be pursued? Exemplary cases involve situations in which professionals act in an admirable way in their professional capacities. Exemplary cases have two characteristics. First, decisions have already been made and a course of action already taken. In other words, no dilemma remains to be resolved. In exemplary cases, the dilemma has already been resolved in an exemplary way. Second, the behavior exhibited is praiseworthy, either because it is a paradigm of right action or because the action is taken in the face of adversity or because the action goes beyond what might be considered required under the circumstances. Exemplary cases can involve micro- or macro-issues. Here is an example of a micro-case involving exemplary action. In the late 1930s, a group of General Electric engineers spent time outside their normal working hours to develop the sealed-beam headlight. Apparently, the prevailing consensus was that the headlight was not technically feasible. Nevertheless, the engineers accomplished their task. Sometimes, an engineer who simply performs what appears to be his or her professional duty can also exhibit exemplary action. Roger Boisjoly, an engineer who protested the launch of the Challenger at considerable risk to his career, exhibited exemplary action. METHODS OF ANALYSIS Methods of analysis can be used to identify the types of issues involved in a case: factual issues, conceptual issues, application issues, and moral issues. Factual Issues A factual issue has two characteristics: (1) it is a disagreement over a matter of fact, and (2) this matter of fact is crucial to resolving the problem. A fact, unlike a factual issue, is a matter that has already been settled and is uncontroversial. Factual issues arise, for example, in cases in which we do not know how much a certain modification in a design will cost or what the effects of a certain course of action will be or how accurate a given test is or what risks are involved in a certain technology. In the real world, empirical research should be used to resolve a factual
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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 issue. Some factual issues, however, cannot be resolved by investigation. Some technological questions cannot be answered, such as questions about consequences that can only be answered in the future. In these cases, the most realistic approach is to leave the factual question unanswered and make a decision in the context of factual uncertainty. Especially in the classroom, it is not appropriate to make assumptions that resolve an issue in a way that could not be done in a real-world context. Here is a case involving a factual issue. A new law requires that the lead content of drinking water be less than 1.0 part per billion (ppb). Melissa is a safety engineer who has tested her company’s drinking water by two methods. Method A gives a reading of 0.85 ppb; Method B gives a reading of 1.23 ppb. She must fill out a government report describing the quality of her company’s water. If the lead content exceeds 1.0 ppb, her company will be fined. She must decide whether to report the results of Method A or Method B. In this case, her decision is based primarily on the factual issue of which method is the most accurate. It is important to keep in mind that many controversies that appear to be about moral issues are traceable primarily to disagreements over facts. Two people may disagree about the proper course of action because they disagree about the consequences of a given course of action. Two engineers may disagree about which of two designs is ethically more acceptable because they disagree about which one is safer. They may agree on the moral parameters of the case, namely that the safest design should be chosen, but they may disagree over which design is safer. Although such a disagreement might be called a moral or ethical disagreement, it is really a disagreement over factual issues, unless they disagree over the definition of “safe.” Engineering students are often inclined to say that ethics are “soft” (in cases where a factual disagreement cannot be settled). It is important, therefore, to realize that sometimes, even though moral parameters may be agreed upon, there may be irresolvable disagreements over facts. Conceptual Issues A conceptual issue is (1) a disagreement over a definition of a concept that is (2) crucial to resolving a problem. Two engineers may differ over whether a design is safe because they have different definitions of (i.e., criteria for) “safe.” They may disagree about whether a given action is a conflict of interest because they may have different definitions of “conflict of interest.” They may disagree over whether something is a bribe because they have different conceptions of a bribe and how to distinguish one from extortion or “grease money.” Here is an example of a case involving a conceptual issue. Sally is a mechanical engineer employed by General Motors to design automotive gas tanks. According to government safety standards, the automobile must be able to survive a “moderate impact” with no chance of the gas tank catching fire. In recent
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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 tests, in cars that crashed at 35 miles per hour (mph) the gas tanks did not catch fire, whereas in 20 percent of cars that crashed at 45 mph they did. She knows she must first determine how the government defines “moderate impact.” Probably the most effective way to come up with a definition is to derive one from paradigm, or standard, cases. A paradigm case of a bribe might be one in which an engineer accepts a large sum of money to specify a product that is not the most appropriate one for the design. From this standard case, we might derive a working definition of a bribe as an offer of something of value to induce a person to perform an action that is morally inappropriate to his or her office or role. If definitions differ, it may be possible to argue that one definition is more in accord with standard practice or paradigms or that one definition is more useful or easier to apply. If there are continuing differences over conceptual issues, the important thing is to be aware of the differences. Another important consideration is whether a concept is “moralized” or “nonmoralized.” A moralized concept includes an implicit moral judgment that the action to which the concept refers is either morally acceptable or unacceptable. When we label something as a bribe, we make a presumptive judgment that it is wrong, because, as we have seen, we usually define bribery as giving something of value to induce a person to perform an action that is morally inappropriate to his or her office or role. Breaking confidentiality, for example, is prima facie morally wrong, because we define it as violating a commitment or breaking a rule that is morally justified. Of course, the fact that an action is a bribe makes only a presumptive case that it is morally wrong. There might be a moral consideration that overrides the fact that we are giving a bribe. Bribing a Nazi guard to get your grandmother out of a concentration camp would be morally permissible, because the office of a concentration-camp guard is itself morally illegitimate. Breaking confidentiality is prima facie bad, but it may be justified when the safety of the public is at stake. Some concepts, by contrast, appear to be morally neutral. We may call them nonmoralized concepts. In deciding whether computer software is a work of authorship (like a book) or an invention (like a machine), we must define “work of authorship” and “invention.” These definitions do not appear to involve moral judgments about the value of these two types of creative products. Application Issues An application issue is a question of whether or not a concept applies to a given situation. An application issue is (1) a disagreement over the application of a concept in a particular situation that is (2) crucial to resolving a problem. I just referred to the question of whether computer software should be classified as a work of authorship or an invention. This is an application issue, because the question is whether the concept of a work of authorship (once we have defined it) or the concept of invention (once we have defined it) best applies to software. Of
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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 course, neither of these concepts applies particularly well, and this is characteristic of application issues. An application issue is one in which we have trouble deciding whether a concept applies in a given situation. We have no trouble deciding whether killing a person by stabbing him in the back to get his money is murder, but we do argue over whether euthanasia is murder. Similarly, engineers might argue over whether attending a conference in Hawaii sponsored by a vendor is a bribe, or whether giving one client general information about another client’s projects is a breach of confidentiality. Here is an example of an application issue. Larry is an aerospace engineer who is a member of the Quaker religion, which is committed to nonviolence. Larry was hired by his firm to design passenger airplanes, but his boss has recently reassigned him to design military fighters. Larry must decide whether to accept the new assignment or quit and find a new job. He must decide whether his commitment to “nonviolence” requires not only that he refrain from operating military aircraft, but also that he refrain from designing them. Application issues often arise in the law. The Constitution requires that citizens be given a “speedy” trial. If a citizen is kept in jail for two years without a trial, is this a denial of his constitutional right to a speedy trial? A city has a law against “vehicles” in the park, and a child rides a skateboard into the park. Is a skateboard a “vehicle”? Moral Issues A fourth type of issue is a genuine moral issue, usually a conflict between two or more values or obligations. Engineer Tom does not want to give the customs officer money, but he needs to get something through customs to complete a project that is important for the local economy as well as for his firm. Here Tom faces a conflict between his obligation not to pay bribes or grease money and his obligation to complete the project. Engineer Jane is not sure whether she should design a slightly safer product that will be considerably more expensive for consumers. Jane faces a conflict between her obligation to produce safe products and her obligation to produce inexpensive products. Here is another example of a moral issue. Harry works for a large manufacturer in the town of Lake Pleasant. His company employs half of the people in the town, which is in an otherwise economically depressed part of the country. Harry discovers that his company is dumping chemicals into the local lake that may pose a health hazard. The lake is the town’s main source of drinking water. Harry is told that the company dumps these chemicals into the lake because disposing of them in any other way would be so expensive that the plant would have to close. Should Harry report his company’s practice to the local authorities? Harry faces a conflict between his obligation to the health of the citizens of Lake Pleasant and his obligation to the economic welfare of the citizens of Lake Pleasant.
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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 BOTTOM-UP METHODS OF PROBLEM RESOLUTION Sometimes moral conflicts remain even after all of the factual, conceptual, and application issues have been resolved. Therefore, we should consider some methods for resolving moral conflicts. Following a nomenclature often used in medical ethics, I find it useful to divide methods of resolving conflicts into bottom-up and top-down methods. Bottom-up methods start on a fairly concrete level, close to the details of the case, and work toward a solution. These methods adopt generally-accepted, intuitively plausible moral concepts that are a part of the moral thinking of most people, at least in our society. They work on what R.M. Hare, a prominent moral philosopher, would call the intuitive level of moral thinking (Hare, 1981). Weighing or Balancing The simplest bottom-up method might be called balancing or weighing. Reasons for alternative evaluations are considered, or “weighed,” and the alternative with the most convincing reasons is selected. We examine the reasons for and against universal engineering registration and, all things considered, find one set of reasons more convincing than the others. If we find the reasons on both sides equally convincing, either option is morally permissible. Engineer Jane, who owns a civil engineering design firm, has a chance to bid on part of the design work for a fertilizer plant in Country X. The plant will increase food production in a country where many people do not have sufficient food. Unfortunately, the plant will have some bad environmental effects, and correcting the problems will make the fertilizer more expensive, too expensive for farmers in Country X. Should she bid on the design? She may decide to list considerations in favor of submitting a bid and considerations against it. On the one hand, she will be contributing to the saving of many lives, the economic development of Country X, and the economic advancement of her firm. On the other hand, she will be contributing to the environmental degradation of Country X, and her firm may receive some negative publicity. She must attempt to balance these two sets of considerations and determine which has the greater moral “weight.” Balancing does not provide specific directions for comparing alternative courses of action, but sometimes such direction is not necessary. The Method of Casuistry or Line Drawing The second method is casuistry, or what I call line drawing. Although the method I have developed for students is more formal than would ordinarily be used in real-world situations, I believe the underlying ideas are what we might call moral common sense. Casuistry has a long history in the moral tradition of the West, going back at least to Cicero. Recently, casuistry has been used to make
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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 decisions in medical ethics. Congress established the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical Research in 1974. Deep religious and philosophical differences between members of the commission made progress difficult until the group decided to talk about specific examples of morally objectionable experiments (“paradigm cases”). The members found that they could agree on the characteristics (“features”) of these experiments that made the experiments wrong. Some members of the commission recognized that they were using the ancient technique of casuistry, and the method subsequently came to be accepted in medical ethics cases. In casuistry, a decision about what to do or believe in a problematic situation is made by comparing the problematic situation with a clear situation. The comparison—reasoning by analogy—is made by comparing the features of the test case with the features of a “positive paradigm case” and a “negative paradigm case.” A feature is a characteristic that distinguishes a paradigm case from the test case, the subject of the analysis. A negative paradigm is a clear or uncontroversial example of an action that is wrong or morally impermissible; a positive paradigm is a clear and uncontroversial example of an action that is right or morally permissible. Casuistry, or line drawing, can be used to resolve two distinct kinds of questions. First, it can be used to resolve an application issue, for example, to determine whether an action really constitutes a bribe. Second, it can be used to resolve a moral issue, for example, once we have determined that an offer really is (or is not) a bribe, whether or not we should accept it or offer it. Of course, in most circumstances, a bribe should not be accepted or offered, but offering or accepting a bribe might be justifiable in a few cases. To cite an earlier example, during World War II, if I could have bribed a Nazi guard to get my grandmother out of a concentration camp, I might decide that offering a bribe is justifiable. The following example illustrates how casuistry can be used to settle an application issue and to settle a moral issue. Denise is an engineer at a large construction firm. Her job requires that she specify rivets for the construction of a large apartment building. She has the power to make the decision by herself. After some research and testing, she decides to use ACME rivets for the job, because, indeed, they are the best product. The day after she orders the rivets, an ACME representative visits her and gives her a voucher for an all-expense paid trip to the ACME Technical Forum in Jamaica. The voucher is worth $5,000, and the four-day trip will include 18 hours of classroom instruction, time in the evening for sightseeing, and a day-long tour of the coastline. The time will be roughly divided between education and pleasure. Does this trip constitute a bribe? A line-drawing analysis might look like Table 1. In a line-drawing analysis, one must decide not only where to place the “x’s” on the spectrum, but also how much “weight” or importance to give each “x.” Some features may be more important than others. For example, one might decide that because the offer was made after the decision to buy ACME rivets the
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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 TABLE 1 Line-Drawing Analysis for Resolving an Application Issue Features Positive Paradigm Test Case Negative Paradigm Gift Size $1.00 _ _ _ _ _ _ _X_ _ $ 5,000 Timing After decision X_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Before decision Reason Education _ _ __ _X _ _ _ _ Pleasure Power to make decisions With others _ _ _ _ __ _X _ _ Alone Quality of product Best _X_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Worst gift cannot be considered a bribe. It may be a bribe, however, to other engineers, who may believe that buying ACME products results in offers of nice trips. However, to Denise it is certainly not a paradigm bribe. Line-drawing analysis can also be used to determine whether Denise should take the trip. Even if she decides the trip is not a bribe, she might still decide not to accept the offer. The features important to this decision may be different from the ones in the first analysis, although there may be some overlap. In the second analysis, it will be important to consider the influence of the gift on future decisions by Denise and other engineers, the company policy on accepting gifts, and the appearance of bribery if the gift is accepted. Some features from the first analysis, such as the educational value of the technical forum, would be relevant here too. Table 2 is a line-drawing analysis to resolve the moral question of whether Denise should accept the offer. According to the analysis in Table 2, the issue is not clear. However, the problems associated with accepting the gift are serious enough that Denise probably should not accept it. In the next section, I shall suggest conditions under which accepting the gift would probably be morally permissible. TABLE 2 Line-Drawing Analysis for Resolving a Moral Issue Features Positive Paradigm Test Case Negative Paradigm Influence on future decisions None _ _ _ _ _X _ _ Great Company policy May accept _ X _ _ _ _ _ _ May not accept Appearance No problem _ _ _ _ _ X_ _ Appearance of a bribe Educational value Great _ _ X _ _ _ _ _ Minimal
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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 But first, here are some concluding thoughts about the method of casuistry. In general, the more features that are included in an analysis, the better. For the sake of simplicity, I used only four or five, but the more features you include, the more helpful and accurate the analysis becomes. Casuistry is an inherently conservative method. In arriving at paradigm cases for comparison with test cases, we assume that our intuitive, common sense moral judgments are correct. This assumption is usually valid, but not always, particularly in areas where morality is changing or when the case involves a novel experience. It might be difficult to find uncontroversial paradigm cases for some issues in environmental ethics, for example. For casuistry to work well in the context of a profession, the professional community must agree on paradigms of acceptable and unacceptable practice. Engineers must agree on paradigmatic examples of acceptable and unacceptable practice with respect to conflicts of interest, confidentiality, and other issues. In the area of medical ethics, for example, there is now widespread agreement about whether actions taken in certain publicized cases were moral or not. These agreed-upon bench marks can then be compared to more controversial cases. I believe there has been less discussion of bench mark cases in engineering. Creative Middle Ways A third method of resolving a problem is finding a creative middle way. Suppose there is a conflict between two or more legitimate moral obligations and that two of them appear to be at loggerheads. Sometimes by creative thinking, it is possible to find a course of action that satisfies both, although perhaps not in the way that was originally supposed. For example, a plant might be emitting some dangerous pollutants that are environmentally harmful, but completely eliminating them would be so expensive that the plant would have to close, throwing many local inhabitants out of work. Assuming there is an obligation both to preserve jobs and to protect the environment, a creative middle way might be to eliminate the worst pollutants and forego a complete cleanup until more economical means of doing so can be found. This alternative would be particularly attractive if the remaining pollutants would not cause irreversible damage to the environment or to human health. This solution, and most creative middle-way solutions, involves compromise. Environmentalists might not be completely satisfied with this solution because not all of the pollutants will be removed. Plant managers might not be completely satisfied because the solution will still involve considerable expenditures for pollution control. Nevertheless, environmentalists will accomplish something, and the plant owners can remain in the town and even build up a considerable amount of public good will. In the line-drawing analysis presented in the previous section, there might also be a creative middle way. Suppose we take the two competing values: (1) the
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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 educational and recreational value of the trip; and (2) avoiding the appearance of bribery and undue influence on professional judgment. Denise’s manager might suggest: (1) that she take the trip but that the company pay her expenses; and (2) that engineers who were not involved in the decision also be allowed to take the trip. Furthermore, it must be understood that company engineers will be allowed to attend the forum, at the company’s expense, whether or not the company buys ACME products. This arrangement would only make sense, of course, if the forum is of very great technical value. This solution would allow Denise to honor competing obligations in a creative way. Two limitations of this method come to mind. First, sometimes there is no creative middle way, even if it is desirable. In the example cited above, all of the pollutants may be so damaging to the environment that no half-way measures will work. Furthermore, there might not be a way to do the cleanup more economically. In that case, the plant might just have to close. In the line-drawing example, Denise’s company might not be able to pay her expenses. A second limitation is that sometimes the creative middle way is not morally appropriate. Sometimes one of the options is so morally repugnant that we must choose the other one. Still, a creative middle way is often a good solution to a complex, practical moral problem. TOP-DOWN METHODS OF RESOLUTION In some cases, the appeal to moral common sense may not be sufficient. In those cases, it may be useful to appeal to more fundamental moral ideas, such as those developed in philosophical theories. Although the role of moral theory in applied or practical ethics is controversial, I believe moral theorists have attempted to find fundamental moral ideals that can generate or explain all or most of our common-sense moral ideas. This goal has been only partially achieved, because there are at least two prevalent moral theories today, and neither one can explain the fundamental ideas of common morality in a completely satisfactory way. These two theories are utilitarianism, usually associated with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, and the ethics of respect for persons, usually associated with Immanuel Kant. The main idea behind utilitarianism is to maximize overall human well-being; and the main idea behind the ethics of respect for persons is to respect the rights and moral agency of individuals. Although the existence of two theories rather than one may be an embarrassment to theorists, practical ethicists can take a more positive attitude because the conflict between the ideas behind these two theories often arise in real-world moral controversies. Common morality, at least in the West, may not be a seamless web. In fact, it may be composed of two strands: (1) considerations having to do with utility, or the well-being of the greatest number of people; and (2) considerations having to do with justice and the rights of individuals. An understanding of moral theory could serve several functions in practical
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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 ethics. First, the two perspectives can often be helpful for identifying and sorting out different types of arguments and for recognizing that different types of arguments have deep moral roots. In arguments for and against strict protections for intellectual property, for example, knowing that some arguments are utilitarian can be helpful. From the utilitarian perspective, protecting intellectual property promotes the flourishing of technology and, thereby, the good of society. Utilitarian arguments can also be made that strong protections for intellectual property limit the sharing of new ideas in technology and are thereby detrimental to the general good. Arguments from the respect-for-persons perspective often focus on the individual’s right to control, and reap the profits from, the fruits of his or her own labor, regardless of the impact on the larger society. Second, understanding these fundamental, yet divergent, moral perspectives often enables an ethicist to anticipate a moral argument. Just thinking about the two theories and the kinds of arguments they would support could have led one to expect that some arguments regarding intellectual property would take the utilitarian approach and others would take the rights-of-ownership approach. Third, familiarity with these two perspectives can sometimes help in determining whether there has been closure on a moral issue. If arguments from both perspectives lead to the same conclusions, we can be pretty confident that we have arrived at the right answer. If the arguments lead to different conclusions, the discussion is likely to continue. When different conclusions are reached, there is no algorithm, unfortunately, for deciding which moral perspective should prevail. In general, however, the Western emphasis on individual rights and respect for persons takes priority, unless harm to individuals is slight and the utility to society is very great. With these considerations in mind, we can now look at the two moral theories. The Ethics of Utilitarianism A principle of utilitarianism is that the right action will have the best consequences, and the best consequences are those that lead to the greatest happiness or well-being of everyone affected by the action. Consider the following case. Kevin is the engineering manager for the county road commission. He must decide what to do about Forest Drive, a local, narrow, two-lane road. Every year for the past seven years, at least one person has crashed a car into trees close to the road and been killed. Many other accidents have also occurred, causing serious injuries, wrecked cars, and damaged trees. Kevin is considering widening the road, which would require that 30 trees be cut down. Kevin is already receiving protests from local citizens who want to protect the beauty and ecological integrity of the area. Should Kevin widen the road? In this case, the conflicting values are public health and safety on the one hand and the beauty and ecological integrity of the area on the other. Let us suppose that widening the road will save one life and prevent two serious injuries
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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 and five minor injuries a year. Not widening the road will preserve the beauty and ecological integrity of the area. Even though the preservation will increase the happiness of many people, the deaths and injuries are far more serious negative consequences for those who experience them. Therefore, the greatest total utility is probably served by widening the road. Cost/benefit analysis is a form of utilitarianism. I sometimes refer to it as “utilitarianism with the numbers.” Instead of maximizing happiness, the focus is on balancing costs and benefits, both measured in money, and selecting the option that leads to the greatest net benefit, also measured in money. Consider an earlier case. ACME manufacturing has a plant in the small town of Springfield that employs about 10 percent of the community. As a consequence of some of its manufacturing procedures, the ACME plant releases bad-smelling fumes that annoy its neighbors, damage the local tourism trade, and have been linked to an increase in asthma in the area. The town of Springfield is considering issuing an ultimatum to ACME to clean up the plant or pay a million-dollar fine. ACME has responded that it will close the plant rather than pay the fine. What should Springfield do? A cost/benefit analysis might show the costs of and benefits of not levying the fine and keeping the plant open (Table 3) and or levying the fine and losing the plant (Table 4). According to these analyses, the economic consequences of fining ACME would be much greater than the consequences of not fining ACME. Thus, the fine should not be levied. There are two major problems with utilitarianism. One is that an accurate analysis requires a lot of factual information. This is especially evident in the cost/benefit analyses above. One must know the amounts to assign to the various costs and benefits. Even in an analysis that is not done in the cost/benefit way, the consequences of various courses of action must be known before the course of action that will have the greatest overall utility can be known. A second problem TABLE 3 Cost/Benefit Analysis of Not Levying the Fine Costs: Health expenses $1,000,000 Nuisance odor $50,000 Decline in housing values $1,000,000 Decline in tourism $50,000 Benefits: Wages $10,000,000 Taxes $2,000,000 Total +$9,900,000
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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 TABLE 4 Cost/Benefit Analysis of Levying the Fine Costs: Loss of wages $10,000,000 Loss of tax revenue $2,000,000 Decline in housing values $2,000,000 Benefits: Fine $1,000,000 Increase in tourism $50,000 Health savings $900,000 Total −$12,050,000 is that a utilitarian analysis can sometimes justify unjust consequences. For example, a decision not to force the plant to stop polluting will result in some people getting sick, even though overall utility will be maximized. These problems suggest that a complete analysis should include the ethics-of-respect principle. The Ethics of Respect for Persons From the utilitarian point of view, harm to one person can be justified by a bigger benefit to someone else. In the ethics of respect for persons, there are some things you may not do to a person, even for the benefit of others. The fundamental idea in the ethics of respect for persons is that you must respect each person as a free and equal moral agent—that is, as a person who has goals and values and a right to pursue those values as long as he or she does not violate the similar rights of others. As this formulation suggests, the ethics of respect for persons emphasizes the rights of individuals, which are formulated, among other places, in various United Nations documents. Individual rights include the right to life and to the security of one’s person, the right not to be held in slavery, the right to freedom of thought and expression, and so forth. The problem with this formulation is that it does not give any clear indication of which rights are most important. When rights conflict, it is important to know which ones are most important. Alan Gewirth, a contemporary philosopher, has suggested that there are three levels of rights (Gewirth, 1978). Level I, the most important rights, includes the right to life, the right to bodily integrity, and the right to mental integrity. I would add to those the right to free and informed consent to actions that affect one. Level II includes the right not to be deceived, cheated, robbed, defamed, or lied to. It also includes the right to free speech. Level III includes the right to acquire property and the right to be free of discrimination. For Gewirth, Level I rights are the fundamental rights necessary for effective moral agency. Level II
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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 rights are necessary to preserving one’s moral agency. Level III rights are necessary to increasing one’s level of effective moral agency. Whether or not one accepts this arrangement, most of us would probably recognize that some rights are more important than others. Consider the following case. Karen, who has been working as a design engineer under Andy, has learned that he is about to be offered a job as head safety inspector for all of the oil rigs the company owns in the region. Karen worries that Andy’s drinking may affect his ability to perform his new job and thereby endanger workers on the oil rigs. She asks Andy to turn down the new assignment, but he refuses. Should Karen take her concerns to management? In this case, Andy’s right to advance his career (by trying to acquire property), which is a Level III right, conflicts with the workers’ rights to life and bodily integrity, which are Level I rights. In this conflict, the rights of the workers are more important, and Karen should take her concern to management. In arbitrating conflicts between rights, two additional issues should be kept in mind. First, there is a distinction between violating and infringing a right. A right is violated if it is denied entirely. I violate your right to life if I kill you. A right is infringed if it is limited or diminished in some way. A plant infringes on my right to life if it emits a pollutant that increases my risk of dying of cancer. Second, rights can be forfeited by violating or perhaps infringing on the rights of others. I may forfeit my right to life if I kill someone else. I may forfeit some right (perhaps the right to free movement) if I steal from others and thus infringe on or violate their right not to be robbed. Finally, the Golden Rule is also a principle associated with the ethics of respect for persons. Most cultures have a version of the Golden Rule. The Christian version requires that we treat others as we would have them treat us. In the Islamic version, no man is a true believer unless he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. If we consider ourselves to be moral agents, the Golden Rule requires that we treat others as moral agents as well. There are two primary problems with the ethics of respect for persons. First, the rights test and the Golden Rule are sometimes difficult to apply. We must determine when there is a conflict of rights, which rights are most important, and whether rights have been violated or merely infringed upon. With the Golden Rule, we must assume that others have the same values we do. If they do not, treating them as we would wish to be treated may be unfair. Second, it may be justifiable at times to allow considerations of utility to override considerations of the ethics of respect for persons, especially if the infringements of rights are relatively minor and the benefit to the general welfare is great. CONCLUSION I have presented a number of tools for analyzing and resolving ethical problems. The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that these tools cannot be
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Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14–15, 2003 used in a mechanical way. They are not algorithms. One must decide if the issue to be resolved is really factual or conceptual, for example. One must also decide when the line-drawing method or finding a creative middle way is most appropriate and when an issue can best be approached as a conflict between general human welfare (utility) and the rights of individuals (the ethics of respect for persons). When there is such a conflict, there is no mechanical way to determine which perspective should be considered most important. In the West, we accord great importance to individual rights, but they do not always take precedence. The techniques and methods I have described are helpful for thinking about ethical issues, but they are no substitute for moral insight and moral wisdom. REFERENCES Gewirth, A. 1978. Reason and Morality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hare, R.M. 1981. Moral Thinking: Its Levels, Method, and Point. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: