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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

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ethical theories

Ethical Theories

Cristina Arimany

Kerri Marsh

Edward Porrello

Monica Valencia

  • Brief history of ethical thought
  • Ethical theories
  • The Disaster at Bhopal
  • The Titanic Tragedy
a brief history of ethical thought
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
  • 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
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.

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.

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.

Example Problems:

A) Building Dams

B) Waste Isolation Pilot Plant


Building Dams:

  • Benefits:

a) Stable flow of drinking water.

b) Flood control.

c) Recreational opportunities

  • Cost:

a) Relocation of flood-zone residents.


Result: Since the benefits of building the dam outweigh the costs, it is profitable/ethical to build the dam.


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.


Result: Since the benefits of building WIPP facilities outweighs the cost to society, then it is ethical to go ahead with project.


Two Tenets of Utilitarianism:

  • Act Utilitarianism – Focus on action, not rules.
  • Rule Utilitarianism – Focus on moral laws, not on action.

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.

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
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
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 ethics18
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
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 ethics20
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 ethics21
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
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 morality23
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
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 use25
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 use26
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
Non-Western Ethical Thinking
  • Ethics are not geographical or cultural
  • Ethics standards are similar worldwide
non western ethical thinking28
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 thinking29
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
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
What Happened?
  • Accidental pouring of water into the tank
    • Two pipes side-by-side
    • Wrong pipe connected to tank
several factors
Several Factors
  • Curtailment of plant maintenance
  • Refrigeration unit
  • Alarm system
  • Flare tower
  • Scrubbers
who to blame
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
  • 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
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 factors36
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 blame37
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
  • 1,500 deaths
  • New measures to promote safety
  • Regulations concerning lifeboats and safety equipment
  • Fledderman, Charles. Engineering Ethics. Second Edition.

Pearson Prentice Hall. Upper Saddle River, NJ. 2004

  • Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 2003.
  • Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science. 2004.