Engineering Codes Of Ethics Research Paper

Academic Writing Service

Sample Engineering Codes Of Ethics Research Paper. Browse other research paper examples and check the list of research paper topics for more inspiration. iResearchNet offers academic assignment help for students all over the world: writing from scratch, editing, proofreading, problem solving, from essays to dissertations, from humanities to STEM. We offer full confidentiality, safe payment, originality, and money-back guarantee. Secure your academic success with our risk-free services.

Engineering codes of ethics are sets of rules adopted by engineering associations and engineers’ professional bodies. They usually include (a) fundamental principles (general guidelines) demarcating the engineering profession; (b) professional rules for engineering practice in dealings with clients, superiors, colleagues (particularly competitors), the profession, and the general public; and (c) procedural rules governing conduct in cases of moral conflict. Codes vary in their degree of legal validity, and range from general guidelines in the form of statements of aims and aspirations, to concrete rules with the status of association bylaws that are binding on all members, on to the vocational regulations of public bodies. Furthermore, many codes do not cover all three elements (a), (b), and (c); as such they are either limited to general principles, restricted to the precepts of professional conduct, or fail to include appropriate procedural rules with a protective function which can be enforced in situations of moral conflict. In particular, many codes fail to clarify the relationship between an orientation to public welfare (a) and the duty to inform the public (b).

Academic Writing, Editing, Proofreading, And Problem Solving Services

Get 10% OFF with 24START discount code

1. Tradition

The first codes of ethics for engineers, drawn up in the United States from 1912 onwards, initially consisted only of professional rules of conduct for dealings with clients and competitors (the professional ethos). Although these codes were promptly supplemented by principles stating that public welfare was to be held paramount in the practice of the engineering profession, this step forward was counteracted by the ban on criticism in public of engineering projects and their execution, and by the lack of procedures for the supervision and protection of the engineers affected. Guidelines on environmental sustainability and nature conservation were also lacking in this first phase of development (in 1908, J. Cooke, the president of the US engineering association, foundered both in his goal of combating air pollution by means of binding rules and in his plan to establish judicial proceedings for cases of moral conflict; in 1932, two members of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) were expelled after they breached the provisions of the ASCE code by disclosing irregularities in dam construction, resulting in the punishment of those responsible; see Layton 1971). While a wealth of different codes were adopted in the United States over the following decades (see Flores 1980, Unger 1982; for an international overview of ethical codes see VDI and Hubig 2000), developments in Europe were rather more restrained. This can be attributed partly to the fact that other organizations were responsible for the control and supervision of technical equipment in Europe (e.g., the technical control board TUV and its predecessors in Germany) and that the European engineers’ associations and the institutes concerned had drawn up legally binding rules for technological design (e.g., DIN, the German Institute for Industrial Standardisation, and VDI, the German Association of Engineers). Furthermore, the more advanced labor and social welfare laws (including protection against dismissal) in force in the European states perform functions that need to be fulfilled by different means in the United States.

In the 1970s, subsequent to a number of prominent scandals in the domain of technical safety (notably the Bay Area Rapid Transit [BART] case, in which engineers who called attention to unsafe aspects of the BART system design lost their jobs despite the fact that their intervention was justified; see Friedlander 1974), it became increasingly clear that codes of ethics needed to include regulations to protect whistleblowers. By the same token, regulations governing conduct in cases of conflict—including the establishment of supportive bodies such as appellate bodies, courts of arbitration, etc.—were needed to prevent engineers being forced into the role of lonely ‘heroes’ or ‘victims’ (Alpern 1987, MacCormac 1987, Lenk 1987). The IEEE played a substantial role in these developments. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, codes of ethics are gaining prevalence internationally, but still lag notably behind the much more advanced discussion in the United States: their provisions may be restricted to professional issues, for example, to the domain of general principles (VDI and Hubig 2000).

2. The Specific Professional Responsibility Of The Engineer

Engineers’ codes of ethics have to solve the problem of how the universal moral responsibility which the engineer automatically assumes in his or her capacity as a private citizen can be placed in relation to actual practice in the engineering profession. This first appears to be a problem of application: the engineer is bound to universal moral principles and has to verify whether his or her action is permitted, required, or prohibited by these principles. The engineer’s actions may be constrained by the principles themselves. Alternatively, specific internal-technical (instrumental) rules (e.g., functionality and product safety) and (strategic) rules on the maximization of utility and minimization of harm (e.g., use of resources, environmental pollution, long-term societal and environmental impact, etc.) may guide his or her action. Moral conflicts arising here have a similar structure as in other occupational fields.

In addition, some more recent codes take into consideration the specific role responsibility of the engineer. This professional responsibility arises from the engineer’s specific knowledge and skills— competencies that cannot be expected of those working in other occupational fields, or of the users of technology, in particular. In addition to bearing the responsibility for the direct consequences of his or her actions in an instrumental-technical or strategic respect, the engineer is obliged to apply his or her specific knowledge and skills to other societal areas by (a) contributing to the early detection of new problematic issues in technological progress and the use of technology, and warning and advising accordingly; (b) calling attention to new alternatives arising in the course of technological development; (c) offering honest criticism of legal provisions with respect to their application and practicability and calling attention to alternatives; (d) using their technical expertise to help draw up standards for technological design and contribute to the discussion of technology related assessment criteria, and finally (e) preventing foreseeable misuse in the lay public’s dealings with technology and limiting the scope for deliberate abuse of technical products and procedures (e.g., by mechanisms to prevent misuse by unauthorised persons— see draft VDI code 2000).

3. The Values Underlying Engineering Codes Of Ethics

In view of traditional and cultural differences in the basic ethical orientations (value pluralism), most codes of ethics are based on fundamental principles which appear justifiable from various perspectives, and which express a kind of moral common sense. The decisive values and value orientations are thus expressed largely in general and formulaic terms. This may well lead to problems. On the one hand, the potential for conflict which may arise as a result of differing interpretations of the set phrases remains hidden; on the other hand, the fact that the values are immanently contradictory and likely to lead to conflict is often overlooked when general lists of values are drawn up. Rules applying to the narrower domain of professional practice (see point (b) above) focus on the values of loyalty, fairness, solidarity, and contractual fidelity. Here, potential for conflict is most likely to arise as a result of competing commitments to the parties involved: loyalty to clients, superiors, the law, etc.; solidarity with colleagues, the profession, the users of technology, etc. The fundamental principles of the majority of codes (see point (a) above) refer to public welfare and, more recently, to environmental quality and nature conservation. Reference is also made to individual health, safety and welfare, and universal moral rights (human dignity, human rights). Conflicts between these general value orientations have a similar structure as those in domain (b). Immanent conflicts in matters of public welfare result from the difficulty of identifying collective preferences which are compatible with the conditions of liberalism on the one hand (e.g., Arrow 1963) and from differing interpretations of total utility as either average utility or aggregated utility on the other. Conflicts between the basic values are also apparent in the debate on sustainability in technological design, for example. Further potential for conflict arises when individual and public welfare have to be weighed up against one another in cases of rationalization or rationing, for example, or in the familiar conflicts of interpretation on human rights matters. Unless the resolution of such conflicts is regulated by fixed value hierarchies within the codes (determining, for example, that loyalty to the law takes priority over loyalty to clients), it will only be possible to settle such value conflicts by discursive means. The engineer is not a privileged partner in such discourses, however, and his or her responsibility here lies in the willingness to engage in such discourses (solely the draft VDI code (2000) takes steps in this direction).

4. Institutionalization Of The Engineer’s Ethical Responsibility

In the complex processes of technology generation and use, it is only in the rarest of cases that the engineer as an individual bears sole responsibility for the consequences of his or her direct actions, the role he or she occupies, or way he or she performs this role. The individual engineer possesses only a certain amount of specialist knowledge and has only limited authority to act. However, this does not exonerate the individual from a share of the responsibility for the results of complex actions in which he or she was involved, or from a share of the responsibility for the institutional actions of the organizations (companies, associations) to which he or she belongs, or the decision-making processes in which he or she participates. Individual actions are embedded into the institutional framework in various ways in different codes of ethics. Some codes stipulate institutionalized procedures to relieve, support, and protect the individual engineer in cases of moral conflicts that he or she does not have the power to resolve, and designate appellate and advisory bodies, hotlines, disciplinary procedures, and incentive schemes to which the engineer has recourse in cases of conflict. If no such measures are stipulated, the provisions of the code may be embedded into the institutional framework in the form of a supplementary bylaw. Only then is the association able to implement the code and regulate its members’ conduct accordingly (e.g., the IEEE Member Conduct Committee, which interprets the provisions of the code in conjunction with an ethics committee, or incentive systems such as the Carl Barus Award for Outstanding Service in the Public Interest). Provision is also made for training programs and support in legal disputes.

5. The Legal Status Of The Codes

Codes which take the form of statements of general aspirations and are formulated in terms of fundamental principles are not directly legally binding. Even in this form, however, they have unequivocal legal relevance. First, they provide a point of reference for the filling of unlegislated areas left open by statutory regulations, and thus constitute an important complement to the orientation function of the law. Second— and even more importantly—codes play an important role in the interpretation of gray concepts in labor law, vocational regulations, and the provisions of administrative and civil law when such gray legal concepts as ‘public morals,’ ‘endangering the health of others,’ ‘significant material assets,’ ‘state of the art,’ ‘duty of care for product safety,’ etc., need to be more clearly defined in terms of certain standards of responsibility. These standards can be derived from the norms of the engineering profession if these are established in a corresponding code of ethics. Engineers can then refer to the code when making decisions, and the courts can follow the guidelines of the codes when interpreting gray legal concepts.

A code has a greater degree of legal validity if it takes the form of an association bylaw which is binding on the association’s members. This makes it possible to protect members from competing demands and expectations and to take disciplinary action in cases of misconduct. Arbitral or association jurisdiction (as is the case in sports clubs, for example) is of course required for a code with the status of an association bylaw to be enforced. A code attains the greatest degree of legal validity as part of the vocational regulations of a professional association which is also a public body (e.g., Federal Chamber of Engineers [Bundesingenieurkammer] 1998). All those practicing the profession in question are bound to the code by means of compulsory membership of the association. By giving vocational regulations precedence to all contractual obligations under civil law, but not to labor law, the state surrenders part of its jurisdiction to the profession, thus offsetting the limits of its own powers.

In the United States, in particular, a further link between ethical codification and the law can be observed: under the terms of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations (FSGO), the question of whether or not an organization or corporation has subscribed to a code of ethics and corresponding enforcement program (‘effective ethics program’) in the form of a bylaw is taken into account in sentencing. Under the guiding principle of ‘good corporate citizenship,’ the state acknowledges that it is not itself in a position to direct corporate action by means of the existing framework regulations, and determines the sanctions to be imposed by considering the corporate will to cooperate in an ethical approach to technology. In Great Britain, the ‘Public Interest Disclosure Bill’ assures the disclosure of moral conflicts and designates appellate bodies and entities.

Finally, some more recent codes of ethics include an additional guideline which goes some way to determining the engineer’s position with regard to legal systems. The ‘qualified obedience to the law’ required here moderates the effect of external legal regulations. In the problematic case of a formal interpretation of the law (e.g., with respect to new and as yet unforeseen technologies), precedence is given to the intention of the law. Furthermore, problematic legal regulations are to be checked with respect to their compatibility with civil liberties and human rights. In conflicts such as this, the individual engineer is in acute need of the support of an association that has adopted such a code.


  1. Alpen K D 1987 Ingenieure als moralische Helden. In: Lenk H, Ropohl G (eds.) Technik und Ethik. Reclam, Stuttgart, pp. 177–93
  2. Arrow K 1963 Social Choice and Individual Values. Yale University Press, London
  3. Baum R J 1980 The limits of profession responsibility. In: Flores A (ed.) Ethical Problems in Engineering. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York, Vol. 1, pp. 48–53
  4. Baum R J (ed.) 1980 Ethical Problems in Engineering. Center for the Study of the Human Dimensions of Science and Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York, Vol. 2
  5. Deiseroth D 1997 Berufsethische Verantwortung des Ingenieurs. Lit, Munster
  6. Flores A (ed.) 1980 Ethical Problems in Engineering. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York, Vol. 1
  7. Friedlander G D 1974 The case of the three engineers vs. BART. IEEE Spectrum October: 69–76
  8. Hubig C 1995 Technik und Wissenschaftsethik. Ein Leitfaden. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York
  9. Johnson D C (ed.) 1991 Ethical Issues in Engineering. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
  10. Layton E T 1971 The Revolts of the Engineers. Social Responsibility of the American Engineering Profession. Hopkins, Cleveland, OH
  11. Lenk H 1987 Ethikkodizes fur Ingenieure. In: Lenk H, Ropohl G (eds.) Technik und Ethik. Reclam, Stuttgart, pp. 194–221
  12. Lenk H, Ropohl G V (eds.) 1987 Technik und Ethik. Reclam, Stuttgart
  13. Liedtke R, Meihorst W, Wendelin-Schroder U (eds.) 2000 Der engineer-Eid. Ethisch-naturphilosophisch-juristische Perspekti en. Scientic Nova, Bretten
  14. MacCormac E B 1987 Das Dilemma der Ingenieurethik. In: Lenk H, Ropohl G (eds.) Technik und Ethik. Reclam, Stuttgart, pp. 222–44
  15. Schweizerische Akademie der Technischen Wissenschaften (SATW) 1991 Ethik fur Ingenieure Technische Wissenschaftler. SATW, Schriften 16, Zurich
  16. Unger S H 1982 Controlling Technology. Ethics and the Responsible Engineer. John Wiley & Sons, New York
  17. VDI, Hubig C (eds.) 2000 Ethische Ingenieur erantwortung. Handlungsspielraume und Perspektiven der Kodifizierung. VDI, Dusseldorf
Ethical Dilemmas Research Paper
Business Codes of Ethics Research Paper


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get 10% off with the 24START discount code!