Engineering Ethics

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Engineering Ethics

Ethics is the study of questions of morality, the search to understand what is right, wrong, good, and bad. It is the branch of philosophy that systematically studies moral ideals and goals, motives of choice, and patterns of good and bad conduct. Ethics is derived from the Greek ethikos, meaning "character." Issues of personal character, and the search for the best patterns for living, were at the core of Greek ethical philosophy. In contrast, moral is from the Latin more (MOR-ay). The Romans used this term to describe the customary ways that people tended to act. Thus, though the two terms are often used interchangeably today, morality has evolved to mean the social norms that people are taught and conditioned to follow, while ethics has come to refer to the rational investigating and questioning of these norms. This view of ethics is said to be normative, since it assumes the existence of at least some universal moral principles and standards.

Ethics tends to be a cross-disciplinary field of study. Theologians study ethics and morality in light of religious teachings and divine commands. Psychologists seek to understand how people's values influence their thinking, behavioral motivations, and personal development. Sociologists attempt to identify and explain varying cultural norms and practices. Business educators try to help companies, employees, and professionals avoid expensive and counterproductive ethical misdeeds. However, the study of normative ethics has historically been dominated by philosophers, who have applied rules of reason and logic to find answers to humanity's perplexing moral questions.

One apparent obstacle to this process is that logical reasoning, at least at first glance, does not seem to lead different people to the same ethical conclusions and answers. If people, ideally, used reason correctly, what would it tell us about ethics? This search for the best, most logical principles to follow is the realm of general ethics. The end results of this search are ethical systems or theories—groups of systematically related ethical principles that attempt to describe and prescribe human morality. Scholars in applied ethics then take these ethical systems and principles and apply them to contemporary moral questions, dilemmas, and life-situations. Examples of specific studies in applied ethics include business, government, and professional ethics (medical, legal, etc.).

Religious And Philosophical Ethics

Perhaps the greatest continual struggle related to ethics throughout history has been between followers of religious ethics and proponents of philosophical ethics. Religious ethics gives preeminence to divine authority. Actions that conform to the will or teachings of this authority are considered good or right; actions that do not conform are seen as bad, wrong, or evil. It is believed that people can find or discover this divine will through sacred scriptures, the teachings of religious leaders, prayer, and personal revelation. On the other hand, philosophical ethics places its primary emphasis on rational thought and the rules of logic. This view assumes that individuals can use reason to find answers to moral questions, making religious authority unnecessary.

This conflict can reach critical proportions. Many philosophers who have challenged the religious authorities ...
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