Engineering Ethics: From Thinking Small to Deep and Big
Today we are living in a New Axial Age in which we must ask: What is the proper way to build the world? What is the meaning of the engineering way of life — not just for engineers but for everyone who directly or indirectly contributes to and is influenced by the engineering way of being in the world?
At its origins as a socially recognized profession in the early 1800s, engineering simply incorporated a theory of the good advanced by Enlightenment philosophy. Civil (as opposed to military) engineering was defined as “the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man.” The life of Thomas Telford, first president of the first society of civil engineers (Institution of Civil Engineers), encapsulates this development.
Over the next two centuries the abstract notion of “use and convenience” underwent a series of interpretations that began quite narrowly as company loyalty but progressively enlarged to emphasize obligations to protect public safety, health, and welfare — and more.
In a world now increasingly transformed into an artifact of human construction and design, both engineers — along with all non-engineers such as myself, whose lives are ineluctably changed by living in our engineered world — are called upon today to think engineering ethics as more than some professional code of conduct.
The period 800 to 200 BCE has been described as a pivotal or Axial Age in which, independently of each other, thinkers as diverse as Shakyamuni Buddha in India, Laozi and Confucius in China, the Hebrew prophets in Israel, and Socrates in Greece introduced into human affairs a new kind of question: What is the proper way to be human?
About the speaker
Professor Carl Mitcham holds appointments as Professor of Liberal Arts and International Studies at the Colorado School of Mines and as International Distinguished Professor of Philosophy of Technology at Renmin (People’s) University of China. he has served as a member of the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1994-2000) and on expert study groups for the European Commission (2009 and 2012). Awards include the International World Technology Network (WTN) award for Ethics (2006) and a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the Universitat Internacional Valenciana, Spain (2010). He holds the BA and MA in Philosophy from the University of Colorado and the PhD in Philosophy from Fordham University.