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A Personal View of Engineering Ethics

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1 Author(s)
Edward L. Owen ; IEEE Life Fellow, Schenectady, NY, USA

The price-fixing scandal in the electrical industry that came into public view during the early 1960s set off a chain of events that profoundly affected the electrical industry. Coincidentally, a book written by Mr. P. L. Alger et. al. on ethical problems in engineering was published during the same era. Meanwhile the unfolding effects of the price-fixing scandal on the electrical industry forced many engineers to reexamine their previously held attitudes and modify their behavior to suit new standards. The intent of this paper is to focus on ethical dilemma more than criminal behavior. This article first examines engineering ethics as a subset of philosophy and differentiates ethics from related areas of philosophy. Publicly available information relating to some persons, once active in the field of engineering, is examined to identify their personal character, moral behavior and personal ethics. The AIEE published its first code of ethics in 1912 after years of debate and negotiations. With a long-standing code of ethics to provide clear guidance on expected behavior; some might ask how this scandal could have ever occurred. The article provides some thoughts on not only how scandal occurred in 1960, but how some form of scandal is still happening today and why it seems to recur. The article then examines more recent events to understand how those events may have changed historic attitudes and brought about new ethical concerns. The paper presents a personal view on ethics that spans nearly 50-years of professional training; beginning as a student of Mr. Charles F. Dalziel in 1960. Later as a member of the engineering staff at General Electric, contact with Mr. Alger gave new understanding and meaning to ethical behavior. Mr. Alger also provided unique insight into the history of engineering ethics. Finally the paper brings the subject forward to the present time; a time when many citizens seem to be concerned about the ethics of large institutions; government, a- ademia and industry.

Published in:

History of Technical Societies, 2009 IEEE Conference on the

Date of Conference:

5-7 Aug. 2009