Books  |    |  June 22, 2000

Fundamentals of Ethics for Scientists and Engineers

Book by Edmund G. Seebauer and Robert L. Barry.
Published by Oxford University Press.
288 pages.

Represents a new approach to introductory ethics that is both practical and accessible. Classical virtue theory is employed to provide a time-tested, simple, and easily remembered basis for ethical reasoning. The text is modularized for easy use in both stand-alone ethics courses and as self-contained units within engineering core courses. It is accompanied by an instructor’s manual that includes a comprehensive set of sample lectures and course assignments, detailed homework solutions, and many helpful hints for teaching an ethics course.

To ground the ethical analysis in practical reality, each chapter contains a real-life case together with several fictional cases. The fictional cases breathe renewed vigor into the study of ethics by employing a new learning device: the “ethical serial.” Each fictional case can be understood individually, but the cases are also unified by use of a single set of college-aged characters whose personalities are developed throughout the book. These characters mimic real people far more closely than those in other texts and act in situations that are directly familiar to students.

The book is composed of four units. The first two focus on ethical reasoning, outlining within the context of science and engineering the notions of character formation and intention central to virtue theory. To prepare students to handle complex ethical questions, these units extend virtue theory in a readily understandable way, accounting systematically for the consequences that follow an ethical decision. The second two units focus on practical issues such as intellectual property, conflict of interest, whistle blowing, and authorship in scientific publication. These units also treat more advanced topics like risk, resource allocation, conflicting ethical methods, and intuition in ethical decision making.

Table of Contents


1. Approaching the Subject of Ethics

  • An Example
  • The Importance of Ethics in Science and Engineering
  • Managing Ethical Discussion
  • Philosophy, Religion, and Ethics
  • The Existence of Right and Wrong
  • Principle: Certain aspects of right and wrong exist objectively, independent of culture or personal opinion
  • The Subject of Moral Analysis
  • The Role of Codes of Ethics
  • A Real-life Case: Destruction of the Spaceship Challengerr

2. The Person and the Virtues

  • Developing a Model for the Person
  • Components of the Psyche
  • Limitations of the Model
  • Habits and Morals
  • The Four Main Virtues
  • Principle: People should always decide and act according to the virtues insofar as possible
  • An Example
  • A Real-life Case; Toxic Waste at Love Canal

3.  Analyzing Exterior Acts: Some First Steps

  • Ethics as a Craft
  • Distinguishing Exterior and Interior Morality
  • Beginning Case Analysis
  • Event Trees
  • A Real-life Case: Dow Corning Corp. and Breast Implants

4. Analyzing Interior Intentions: Some First Steps

  • Describing Intention
  • The Importance of Intention
  • Effort and the Virtues
  • Principle: People should try insofar as possible to continue to progress in the moral life
  • The Role of Benevolence
  • A Real-life Case: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment
  • Some Words of Caution


5. Toward a Hierarchy of Moral Values

  • On Selecting Principles and Methods
  • Hierarchies of Values: Moral and Nonmoral
  • Line-drawing
  • An Example
  • Mathematical Analogies
  • Ranking the Virtues
  • A Real-life Case: Scientific Tests Using Animals

6. Starting Moral Judgments: Evaluating Exterior Acts

  • A Mathematical Analogy
  • An Example
  • A Real-life Case: Chemical Disaster at Bhopal

7. Completing Moral Judgments: The Decisive Role of Intention

  • Evaluating Interior Goodness
  • An Example
  • Balancing Evaluations of Interior and Exterior Goodness
  • The “Solomon Problem”
  • Principle: The obligation to avoid what is bad outweighs the obligation to do what is good
  • Cooperating in the Evil of Others
  • A Real-life Case: The Problem of Performance Evaluation–Grade Inflation

8. Moral Responsibility

  • Factors Limiting Moral Responsibility
  • Degrees of Responsibility
  • An Example
  • The “Sainthood” and “Devil” Problems
  • A Real-life Case: Responsibility in Software Engineering
  • Some Words of Caution


9. Truth: Person-to-Person

  • Truth in Actions
  • Truth in Words
  • Harm from Deception
  • Harm from Withholding Truth
  • Whistleblowing
  • Harm from Spreading Truth
  • Privacy
  • A Real-lfe Case: Censorship of the Internet

10. Truth: Social

  • Distinctions between Science and Engineering
  • Approach to Knowledge in Science
  • Recognition from Scientific Publication
  • Black and Gray in Scientific Practice
  • Approach to Knowledge in Technology
  • Intellectual Property
  • A Real-life Case: Copying Music Illegally Using the Internet

11. Fairness: Person-to-Person

  • Conflict of Interest
  • Qualitative versus Quantitative Fairness
  • Credit or Blame in Team Projects
  • Authorship Questions
  • Fairness in Supervising
  • Fairness in Contracting with Clients
  • A Real-life Case: Problems with Peer Review

12. Fairness: Social

  • Intellectual Property and the Society
  • Environmental Issues
  • Experts and Paternalism
  • Social Aspects of Employment
  • A Real-life Case: Environmental Cleanup–Problems with the Superfund
  • Some Words of Caution


13. Resource Allocation

  • What is Resource Allocation?
  • Allocation by Merit
  • Allocation by Social Worth
  • Allocation by Need
  • Allocation by Ability to Pay
  • Allocation by Equal or Random Assignment
  • Allocation by Similarity
  • How to Decide among Methods
  • A Real-life Case: Ethical Issues in Affirmative Action

14. Risk

  • A Historical Perspective
  • Defining Safety and Risk
  • Evaluating Risk
  • Making Decisions about Risk
  • Some General Guidelines
  • A Real-life Case: Experimental Drug Testing in Humans

15. Dealing With Differing Ethical Systems

  • Differing Anthropologies
  • Differing Principles and Methods
  • Monism and Relativism
  • Postmodernism
  • True Pluralism
  • Conclusion
  • A Real-life Case: Geological Experiments in Sacred Mountains

16. Habit and Intuition

  • Rationalist Approaches to Moral Action
  • Advantages of Rationalist Approaches
  • Problems with Rationalist Approaches
  • Toward a More Comprehensive Approach to Moral Behavior
  • A Real-life Case: The Ethics of Human Cloning

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