Engineering Ethics       

Engineering Ethics


Course Information:

James Rachels.  The Elements of Moral Philosophy 4th, 5th or 6th  Edition, 2006-2010. ·  ISBN-10: 0073125474 ISBN-13: 978-0073125473 (also on reserve).


*Some material will be on ereserve or available through Drexel’s databases.


Course Description:  This is a philosophy course in engineering ethics.  Philosophy argues for conclusions based on premises and ethics studies theories about what is good or bad, right or wrong in human conduct.  Engineering is of course a kind of human conduct–the complicated story about building things.  So, add philosophy and ethics, and you get engineering ethics: the study of theories about how we should conduct ourselves when building things.  It is a branch of applied and professional ethics.  And it has a number of problems that we may actually deal with.  Here are two:

First problem:  methodology.  People preeminently approach EE through a “deductive” case-study method that I find question begging.   Lots of case studies tell us what is the case in contemporary engineering, but I’d rather know what should beand how to get there.   I think we should start with the individual herself and ask what she wants and how to get it.  Starting with the person herself is perhaps the only way to actually make anyone more moral.  Maybe.

Second problem:  goals.  Almost everyone assumes ethics means doing good for others.  Engineering/business’ only purpose is to serve others.  I don’t think anyone or anything’s purpose could possibly be to serve others.  I argue that ethics means seeking happiness or true self-interest.  But of course we will need to distinguish this from the selfishness and greed people use to vilify engineering and business.

The Rachel’s text provides a simple reflection on ethics and ethical types like egoism, utilitarianism, Kantian deontology, religion and so on.  It’s good philosophy in the sense that it is, in places, either importantly right or importantly wrong.  The Johnson anthology is more properly applied philosophy at its best:  controversial and critical.  Firmage and Greenwood battle it out over professionalism, Baron and Duska over loyalty and whistle blowing, Friedman over social responsibilities, Ladd over codes, and so on.  Van De Poel

and Royakers write a “canonical” or orthodox textbook that turns out to be rather controversial in places.  Meanwhile, a number of recent articles by leading researchers (many of them engineers) bring the subject up to date.  This includes an additional topic on the morality of weapons engineering that I like to call “War and Peace.”

[Online class will do discussion posts not presentations] Students will present with my aid on several key topics including morality, social responsibility, codes, whistle blowing, loyalty, professionalism, safety and weapons engineering.  Feel free to bring in whatever material you find useful for the topics (but also look at the assigned material).  Hopefully we can have some computer/movie-aided fun while learning something too!



Course Objectives:  At the end of this course students should be able to

  • Recognize and appreciate some of the most important moral and philosophical approaches to engineering ethics debacles, both in theory and in practice.
  • Understand a number of examples or case studies raising moral issues within engineering ethics.
  • Argue effectively about engineering ethics issues.


Course Requirements:

  1. Class Participation, Attendance,
  2. One (min 5 page) paper (I will accept drafts for revision) 33%
  3. Two brief examinations (midterm and final)                         66%



  1. Class Participation and Attendance.  Do not miss more than 4 days (two weeks) or I will depreciate your grade by + or – for each day missed after that.  Students in the face-to-face class will choose material to present in class.  [Discussion Board –Online class only. I want each student to write one discussion post each week disagreeing with one of the assigned readings or with another student’s post.  Please write 1 to 2 paragraphs explaining what you are disagreeing with.  Then 1 to 2 paragraphs explaining why you disagree.]


  1. The term paper.  Choose a paper topic amongst those covered in the syllabus.  The main requirement is that your paper has to do with business, ethics, and our texts.  I favor taking copious notes in your texts (the bookstore doesn’t give you much back anyway), underline, doodle, scrawl, so that you have a lot of objections to turn into a paper.

In this paper you will argue your conclusion against opposition.  So, get to the point right away.  For example, the first couple of lines:  “According to <opposition> <conclusion>.”  I disagree.  In this paper I will argue:  <opposite conclusion>.”  Above all, have and start with at least one paper you disagree with.  After an explicit introduction (in this paper I will argue,etc.), spend 1-2 pgs simply explaining and QUOTING your opposition.  Then start ARGUING against them.  No just saying “I disagree” isn’t good enough.  For this course, if you don’t know, can’t explain, or just have bad reasons for disagreeing; then you don’t disagree.

You should talk about something that is a real issue:  a controversy with at least two sides.  You should TAKE A SIDE, and in doing so you are not representing any given author YOU ARE REPRESENTING YOURSELF.  I want YOUR ARGUMENT, though you can use whomever (even an outside source or two) to help you out.  Your paper should be at least 50% in class text sources and be RELATED ESSENTIALLY TO ENGINEERING PRACTICE (even if its fundamentally on a philosophical position).  An easy way to do this is to bring in a case study or two.  USE ACTUAL REAL LIFE EXAMPLES (like Enron or Microsoft) in place of hypothetical examples (like suppose a Ceo…) whenever possible.

Everyone will probably have to make at least some revisions to the paper.  Final copies of the term paper are due on paper and by email by the last day of class, class time.


  1. The midterm and final.  Each student should submit short answer questions for the midterm (weeks 2,3,4) and the final (weeks 6-9), preferably two questions per unit in that week.  These should be answerable in 1-1.5 pps.  For example, for the midterm, you would write questions on ethical theory, professionalism, and codes.  I will select a list of questions for the midterm and final or if need be supply some questions of my own.  Otherwise, I will make up the questions yourself.  You should also read the texts carefully, consult with your roommate or outside faculty, or whatever you have to do (short of something unethical) to get the answers.  NB:  Please refer to chapter 4 of Royakkers and Van De Poel for what is meant by “evaluate an argument.”  Basically, give the argument and assess its soundness and validity.


Yes, there is a lot of reading and writing in this class.  It is a philosophy class.  Feel free to give the folks at the Writing Center something to do, or use the wonderful world wide web.  Here’s a few sites you might check out.


  1. Markulla Center for Applied Ethics:
  2. Ethics Updates
  3. IEEE Spectrum:
  4. NSPE Home page:
  5. Reason Online:


Electronic Access.  Please utilize the course’s blackboard page  .  Students are responsible for knowing how to use blackboard.  Use only your Drexel email address for all correspondence.  Assignments without your complete name and section may not be accepted.  Students may use word processors for in-class exams and other electronic devices such as computers, translators, recorders, and such in-class at my discretion.  I answer emails within 2 weeks (usually much sooner).  Please contact me again if you have not heard back within 2 weeks.  My cell is also on the syllabus so feel free to call.


Final Exam when scheduled by Registrar. Do not make plans or travel arrangements until we have been informed of the date and time. Even if we have a take-home examination it will be due on the assigned date. Assignments and course requirements may be modified as necessary in terms of content. Deadlines will remain the same.


Drexel University Policy on Plagiarism:

Plagiarism is the inclusion of someone else’s words, ideas, or data as one’s own work. When a student submits work for credit that includes the words, ideas, or data of others, the source of that information must be acknowledged through complete, accurate, and specific references, and, if verbatim statements are included, through quotation marks as well. By placing his/her name on work submitted for credit, the student certifies the originality of all work not otherwise identified by appropriate acknowledgments. Plagiarism covers unpublished as well as published sources. Examples of plagiarism include, but are not limited to:

– Quoting an entire piece of written work without acknowledgment of the source

-Using another person’s ideas, opinions, or theory, even if it is completely paraphrased in one’s own words without acknowledgment of the source

-Borrowing facts, statistics, or other illustrative materials that are not clearly common knowledge without acknowledgment of the source

-Copying another student’s essay test answers

– Copying, or allowing another student to copy, a computer file that contains another student’s assignment, and submitting it, in part or in its entirety, as one’s own

-Working together on an assignment, sharing the computer files and programs involved, and then submitting individual copies of the assignment as one’s own individual work

Students are urged to consult with individual faculty members, academic departments, or recognized handbooks in their field if in doubt regarding issues of plagiarism.


Drexel University Policy on Cheating:

Cheating is an act or an attempted act of deception by which a student seeks to misrepresent that he or she has mastered information on an academic exercise that he/she has not mastered. Examples include, but are not limited to:

-Copying from another student’s test paper

-Allowing another student to copy from a test paper

-Unauthorized use of course textbook or other materials, such as a notebook to complete a test or other assignment from the faculty member

-Collaborating on a test, quiz, or other project with any other person(s) without authorization

-Using or processing specifically prepared materials during a test such as notes, formula lists, notes written on the students clothing, etc. that are not authorized

Taking a test for someone else or permitting someone else to take a test for you


Statement for Students with Disabilities:

Drexel University is committed to providing students who have disabilities with an equal opportunity to fully participate in its courses, Co-Op employment, programs, and activities. Students of Drexel University who have a disability and need accommodations in order to attain equal access must register with the Office of Disability Resources (“ODR”). This MUST be done prior to the midterm! AVL’s are issued by the Office of Disability Services (ODS). For additional information, contact ODS at



Tentative Schedule. These are most of the readings I want you to concentrate on, and roughly when.  You will be responsible for making sure that each person in your group has by themselves a decent amount to present on, although you may present together.  You need not cover everything in a particular week and may bring in additional material but CHECK WITH ME FIRST.

Week One:  Introductory Material.

  1. Johnson Ed., John Ladd “Collective and Moral Responsibility in Engineering:  Some Questions” 26-39.
  2. Rachels “What is Morality,” 1-19.  Review the rest of the chapters esp psych ethical egoism, utilitarianism and absolute rules.
  3. Van De Poel and Royakkers,  “Introduction” 7-9; Van De Poel and Royakkers,  chapter four 109-132.
  4. Look up “prisoner’s dilemma” on wikipedia compare with this clip from Beautiful Mind where Nash challenges ethical egoism and Adam Smith.
  5. (optional) James A. Stieb “prisoner’s dilemma” from “Social Responsibility Revisited” (on ereserve).
  6. Kantian Ethics
  7. Rand, Mike Wallace Interview

Week Two:  Moral Philosophy.

  1. (Overview) Charles Harris, “The Good Engineer; Giving Virtue its Due in Engineering Ethics” (on ereserve).
  2. James A. Stieb “On ‘Bettering Humanity’ In Science and Engineering Education” (on ereserve).
  3. Rachels, overview chapters 5-7, 9-10, “Ethical and Psychological Egoism,” “Are Their Absolute Rules,” “Kant and Respect for Persons”; Utilitarianism for and against.
  4. Van De Poel and Royakkers,  chapter 3., 65-108.
  5. Ursula K. Leguin.  “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”


Week Three:  Professionalism and other Theories.

  1. Stieb “Understanding Engineering Professionalism; A Reflection on the Rights of Engineers” (on ereserve).
  2. Johnson (Ed.) D. Allan Firmage “The Definition of a Profession,” 63-66;
  3. Johnson (Ed.) Ernest Greenwood “Attributes of a Profession,” 67-?
  4. (Optional) Michael Davis “Is there a Profession of Engineering?” (on ereserve).
  5. Smith et al., “The Responsibilities of Engineers” (on ereserve)
  6. Harris, Pritchard and Rabbins “Why Professional Ethics?” 1-12 (on ereseve)
  7. Van De Poel and Royakkers,  ch 1., 9-30.
  8. Donald Trump:  A Professional?
  9. (Optional)  Otto J. Helweg, P.E. “Professional Ethics Without Religion” (use explorer).


Week Four:  Codes and Cases.

  1. Johnson (Ed.) “Engineers’ Creed (and NSPE Codes) or Johnson ed., pp. 93-104
  2. J. F. Lozano “Developing an Ethical Code for Engineers:  The Discursive Approach” (on ereserve).
  3. Johnson (Ed.) John Ladd, “The Quest for a Code of Professional Ethics:  An Intellectual and Moral Confusion” 130-137.
  4. Van De Poel and Royakkers,  ch. 2., 31-64.
  5. Boy Scout Code .
  6. George Carlin on the 10 Commandments


Week Five:  Review and Examishness.

Week Six:  Social Responsibility vs. Selfishness.

  1. Vanusupa et al, “Global Challenges as Inspiration:  A Classroom Strategy to Foster Social Responsibility” (on ereserve).
  2. Johnson (Ed.) Milton Friedman “The Social Responsibilitiy of Business is to Increase Its Profits,” 78-84;
  3. Johnson (Ed.) Robert Hannaford “The Theoretical Twist To Irresponsibility in Business”85-92;
  4. Eric Katz “The Nazi Engineers:  Reflection on Technological Ethics in Hell” (on ereserve).
  5.  (optional) James Stieb “Social Responsibility Within and Without Self Interest” (on ereserve).
  6. (optional) Friedman, Mackey and Rogers “Rethinking the Social Responsibility of Business”
  7.  Compare Enron & Malden Mills
  8. (optional) More Friedman


Week Seven:  Safety

  1. Johnson (Ed.) Michael McFarland “The Public Health, Safety and Welfare:  An Analysis of the Social Responsibilities of Engineers” 159-174
  2. Ethan T. Wilding “Framing Ethical Acceptability:  The Problem of Nuclear Waste in Canada” (on erseserve).
  3. Jameson Wetmore “Engineering with Uncertainty; Monitoring Air Bag Performance” (on ereserve).
  4. Martin and Schinzinger “Engineering as Social Experimentation” (in Johnson anthology).
  5. Van De Poel and Royakkers,  ch 6., 161-197.
  6. Japan earthquake
  7. BP Oil Spill
  8. “The Ford Pinto Crash”
  9. Pinto commercial:
  10. Pinto Blowup:
  11. Challenger
  12. Tocoma Narrows
  13. Katrina:
  14. World Trade Center
  15. Vic Tang “Normal Accidents by Charles Perrow (book review)”
  16. Perrow’s New Book The Next Catastrophe
  17. Crash Test Dummies

Week Eight:  Employee Rights and Responsibilities:  Loyalty & Whistleblowing.

  1. Johnson (Ed.) Marcia Baron “The Moral Status of Loyalty” 225-240
  2. Johnson (Ed.) Ronald Duska “Whistle Blowing and Employee Loyalty” 241-247.
  3. James A. Stieb “Clearing Up the Egoist Difficulty with Loyalty” (on ereserve).
  4. Juan M. Elegido “Does it Make Sense to be a Loyal Employee?” (on ereserve).
  5. Johnson (Ed.) Richard DeGeorge “Ethical Responsibilities of Engineers in large Organizations:  The Pinto Case” 175-186
  6. Coast Guard Whistleblowing:.  Compare with loyalty in movie “The Informant”
  7. Edward Snowden Whistleblowing.


Week Nine:  War and Peace.

  1. George D. Catalano “Promoting Peace in Engineering Education:  Modifying the ABET Criteria” (on ereserve).
  2. David Haws. “Engineering a Just War” (link on webct, pps 365-366).
  3. Van De Poel and Royakkers,  ch 10., 277-300.
  4. Robert Sparrow “Building a Better WarBot: Ethical Issues in the Design of Unmanned Systems for Military Applications” (on ereserve)
  5. (optional) Aaron Fichtelberg “Applying the Rules of Just War Theory to Engineers in the Arms Industry” (on ereserve).
  6. (optional) James A. Stieb.  “Three Philosophical Difficulties with ‘Preemptive Wars’”
  7. Battle For Libya
  8. Cluster Bombs.
  9. Engineers fortify road in Iraq
  10. Robert MacNamara on proportionality


The University grading system is as follows:


Grade Grade Points
A+ 4.0
A 4.0
A- 3.67
B+ 3.33
B 3.0
B- 2.67
C+ 2.33
C 2.0
C- 1.67
D+ 1.33
D 1.0
F 0.0
AU 0.0
INC 0.0


Grading:  For most purposes, I use standard + or – Grades of A, A-, B+, B . . . and so on, corresponding approximately with the following pattern:  95-100% = A, 90-94% =A-, 87-89% = B+, 84%-86% = B, 80%-84% = B-, and so on.  A=outstanding/exceptional; B=Good, some nice points; C=Fair, average, does the job; D=You tried, but not so good, significant problems; F=You didn’t even try or this really isn’t the assignment.  Please allow up to two weeks for graded assignments (excluding discussion posts).  If you are unsure of your grade after two weeks from an assignment please contact me asap.

Instructor Profile: 

James Stieb is currently an Adjunct Associate Professor of Philosophy at Drexel University. He has nearly 15 years of experience teaching Ethics, Applied Ethics, Logic and Critical Reasoning. Dr. Stieb received his undergraduate degree in liberal arts from St. John’s College, and in philosophy from the University of Colorado at Boulder and his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His current research interests include supporting the equation of virtue ethics and ethical egoism, showing that there are no inevitable conflicts in loyalty, and in general showing the relevance of philosophy and metaphysics to large organizations.  He recently wrote an article titled “Understanding Engineering Professonalism; A Reflection on the Rights of Engineers” which appeared in Science and Engineering Ethics.


Student’s Responsibilities:

Incomplete Policy:

At the discretion of an instructor, the grade of “INC (Incomplete) may be reported in place of a letter grade for any course in which the instructor deems that the work has not been completed and that the student can complete the work within an agreed upon time, which must be in accordance with University policy and the statute of limitations governing grade changes.

The conditions and terms for the completion of the course are at the discretion of the instructor and are to be mutally agreed up on by the instructor of the course and the student.

If a final grade is not submitted within one year, the “INC” will turn into an “F” on the student’s record and will be reflected in the students GPA. The grade of “F” will be considered a permanent grade unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Dropping a course or withdrawing from a course:


Once a student is registered, it is his/her responsibility to attend the course, drop the course, or withdraw from the course.  Dropping and withdrawing are distinct actions governed by different policies and impact a student’s course enrollment status.


  • Dropping a course causes the name of the course to disappear from the student’s transcript.
  • Withdrawing from a course causes both the name of the course and the grade of “W” to appear on the student’s transcript. Before withdrawing from a course, students should consult the instructor.


In either case, a signed form is required. There are billing consequences and academic record impact during this process; therefore, the student must attend to the proper procedure when dropping or withdrawing from a course. All students must obtain the instructor’s and the Academic Advisor’s signature on the “Add/ Drop/Withdraw” form, which is available online at or in the lobby of Goodwin College.


Financial/academic record impact for Drop/Withdrawal:


Dropping or withdrawing from courses can have serious financial and academic implications, possibly affecting billing, financial aid, VA benefits, eligibility to participate in NCAA athletic events, and for foreign students, immigration status. Students are strongly encouraged to consult with their Academic Advisor and financial aid counselor before withdrawing. Students are considered the responsible parties for any/all transactions processed against their academic record.

Below is the financial and academic record impact of course drop/withdrawal.



To drop or withdraw a course for which you have paid or contracted:

  • Complete drop/withdraw form and obtain instructor and Academic Advisor signatures
  • Notify your funding source (if appropriate)


6  week course – drop/withdraw period 8&10 wk course–drop/withdraw period Tuition Refund Record Impact Academic Record
Before1st  class session begins Before 1st  class sessionbegins 100% No Record Tuition Refund
By 5pm of day of 1st  class session By 5pm of day of 1stor 2nd class session 100% No Record Tuition Refund
By 5pm of day of 2ndclass session By 5pm of day of 3rdclass session 50% “W” on Record
N/A By 5pm of day of 4thand 5th class session 25% “W” on Record Tuition Refund
By 5pm of day of 3rdclass session By 5pm of day of 6thclass session 0% “W” on Record Tuition Refund

Course withdraws will not be processed after the 3rd class session of a 6-week course or after the 6th class session of an 8- and 10-week course.  As shown above, withdrawal has financial and academic implications.