Ethical Theories Cristina Arimany Kerri Marsh Edward Porrello Monica Valencia
Introduction • Brief history of ethical thought • Ethical theories • The Disaster at Bhopal • The Titanic Tragedy
A Brief History of Ethical Thought • The moral and ethical theories that engineers apply are derived from a Western cultural tradition. • They come from the ancient Greeks and ancient religious thinking and writing. • The philosophers with the greatest influence are Socrates and Aristotle.
Moral Theory • Moral Theory: Defines terms in uniform ways and links ideas and problems together in consistent ways. • Moral concept is an important aspect in the four following theories.
Moral Theories • Utilitarianism: Seeks to produce the most utility. • Duty Ethics: There are some duties that should be performed. • Rights Ethics: We all have moral rights that should be protected. • Virtue Ethics: Actions as right that manifest good character traits and regards actions as bad that display bad character traits.
Utilitarianism I. What is it? • Good actions are those that serve to maximize human well-being. II. Benefits: • Maximizes positive affects for many people. III. Downfalls: • Ignores the individual. • Difficult to predict consequences of actions.
Utilitarianism Problem Solving Approach: • Determine Benefits to Society. • Determine Costs to Parties involved. • Compare Benefits to Costs. • If Benefits to Society outweigh Costs, then it is ethical to pursue project.
Utilitarianism Example Problems: A) Building Dams B) Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Utilitarianism Building Dams: • Benefits: a) Stable flow of drinking water. b) Flood control. c) Recreational opportunities • Cost: a) Relocation of flood-zone residents.
Utilitarianism Result: Since the benefits of building the dam outweigh the costs, it is profitable/ethical to build the dam.
Utilitarianism Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP): • Benefits: a) Safe storage of dangerous waste. b) Nuclear Power = electricity. c) Radioisotopes = medicine. • Costs: a) Potential danger to residents near transportation routes.
Utilitarianism Result: Since the benefits of building WIPP facilities outweighs the cost to society, then it is ethical to go ahead with project.
Utilitarianism Two Tenets of Utilitarianism: • Act Utilitarianism – Focus on action, not rules. • Rule Utilitarianism – Focus on moral laws, not on action.
Utilitarianism Act Utilitarianism: • John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) • Believe that rules of morality were derived from trial and error throughout the course of time. • Believe that rules should be broken in order to maximize benefits to society.
Utilitarianism Rule Utilitarianism: • Believe that moral laws take precedence over action. • Adhere that although following rules might not always maximize benefits to society, it will ultimately lead to the most good overall.
Cost-Benefit Analysis • What is it? • An Application of Utilitarianism • Goal is to maximize Benefit-to-Cost Ratio. • Benefits: • Quantifiable method for analyzing ethical dilemmas. • Downfall: • Similar to utilitarian in that benefits are often difficult to predict.
Duty and Rights Ethics • What are they? • Good actions are those that respect the rights of the individual. • Benefits: • Maximize positive effects for the individual. • Downfalls: • Basic rights of one person may conflict with basic rights of another person. • Doesn’t account for overall betterment of society.
Duty and Rights Ethics • Duty Ethics • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) • Ethical actions are those that can be written as a list of duties (e.g. “Be Honest, Be Fair, etc.) • Rights Ethics • John Locke (1632-1704) • People have fundamental rights that people have a duty to respect.
Virtue Ethics What is a virtue? A moral distinction and goodness. • In virtue ethics, actions are considered right if they support good character traits (virtues) and wrong if they support bad character traits (vices).
Virtue Ethics • Virtue Ethics determine what kind of people we should be. • A virtuous person exhibits good and beneficial qualities. • Personal morality cannot be separated from business morality. If a person is virtuous in his personal life, then he is also in his business life as well.
Virtue Ethics • In using Virtue Ethics, it is important to ensure that the traits you identify as virtues are indeed virtuous and will not lead to negative consequences. • Example: Honor: (dignity, integrity, pride). This may seem good because of integrity but it might give you negative consequences because of pride (wars to preserve honor of nation).
Personal vs. Corporate Morality • Is there a distinction between the ethics practiced by an individual and those practiced by a corporation? • How can a company display human traits like honesty and loyalty?
Personal vs. Corporate Morality • While dealing with individuals, corporations should be considered pseudo-moral agents and should be held accountable in the same way that individuals are. • A corporation must respect the rights of individuals and should exhibit the same virtues that we expect of individuals.
Which Theory to Use? • How do we decide which theory to use? In order to obtain a complete understanding of a problem, it is best to analyze the situation using multiple ethical theories. • Example: A chemical plant discharges a hazardous waste into the groundwater the city will be compromised with health problems.
Which Theory to Use? • Rights Ethics indicate that this is unethical. • Utilitarian Analysis indicates the same. Economic benefits would be outweighed by negative effect of pollution and costs to ensure a safe municipal water supply. • Virtue Ethics indicate this is irresponsible and harmful. • They all show the same conclusion.
Which Theory to Use? • What if they come up with different conclusions? • The answers should be weighed. • Generally, rights and duty ethics should take precedence over utilitarian consideration because the rights of individuals should receive stronger weight than the needs of society as a whole.
Non-Western Ethical Thinking • Ethics are not geographical or cultural • Ethics standards are similar worldwide
Non-Western Ethical Thinking In Arab countries… • Foundations of ethical principles grounded in traditions of Islam • Islam is very similar to Christianity Ethical principles of Buddhists, Hindus, and all major religions of world are similar
Non-Western Ethical Thinking • Personal ethics are not determined by geography “When in Rome, do as the Romans” • Not applicable to personal morality
Disaster at Bhopal • December 2, 1984 • Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India • Leak developed in storage tank • Toxic cloud of gas over surrounding area 2,000 Deaths200,000+ Injuries
What Happened? • Accidental pouring of water into the tank • Two pipes side-by-side • Wrong pipe connected to tank
Several Factors • Curtailment of plant maintenance • Refrigeration unit • Alarm system • Flare tower • Scrubbers
Who to Blame? • Plant Designers – Not at fault…Did job by anticipating such problems • Management – Obviously negligent • Union Carbide – Negligent also • Indian Government – Few safety standards
Aftermath • Lawsuits filed totally over $250 billion • Job training and relocation for accident victims • Chairman charged with culpable homicide • Estimated 10,000 people injured will suffer permanent damage
Titanic Tragedy • April 14, 1912 • British Liner Titanic • Crashed into an iceberg and sank off the coast of Newfoundland 1,500 lives were lost
Several Factors • Warnings of ice not received or ignored • Ship continued at full speed • Not a sufficient amount of lifeboats • Lifeboats launched partially occupied • Wireless operator of nearby ship had retired for the evening
Who to Blame? • Ship’s Captain – Did not slow ship down • Company – Did not change course of ship even when warned of ice • Designer – Not enough lifeboats • Crew – Not proficient in emergency procedures
Aftermath • 1,500 deaths • New measures to promote safety • Regulations concerning lifeboats and safety equipment
References • Fledderman, Charles. Engineering Ethics. Second Edition. Pearson Prentice Hall. Upper Saddle River, NJ. 2004 • Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 2003. www.search.eb.com • Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science. 2004. http://onlineethics.org