Holistic Engineering Ethics?

Eddie Conlon, Diana Adela Martin, Iacovos Nicolaou, Brian Bowe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionAcademicpeer-review

11 Downloads (Pure)


What kind of engineering ethics is needed to develop holistic engineers who can practice and promote the principles of sustainable development? According to Grasso and Helble (2010) holistic engineers need to address social needs and be ethically grounded. In many countries engineering educators are mandated to provide ethics education focusing on “the responsibilities of the engineering profession towards people and the environment” (Engineers Ireland 2007). The Irish Code of Ethics says engineers “must practice and promote the principles of sustainable development”. Despite these mandates, research suggests that provision of ethics education in engineering is inadequate, discussion of cases is the most prevalent means of teaching, and that “the broad public purposes of engineering receives little attention” (Colby and Sullivan 2008: 330). It is also the case that in light of the dissatisfaction with the dominant approach, there is an increasing variety in approaches to teaching ethics (see Conlon and Zandvoort 2010). In the context of sustainability it has been argued that there are contradictions between the goals of engineering, such as sustainability, and current political and economic priorities (Petrella 2001) leading to a demand for the profession to influence change in “social, political, economic, and institutional paradigms” increasing our ability to move in sustainable directions (Donnelly and Boyle 2006). It has also been argued that traditional approaches to ethics derived from moral philosophy are inadequate for this task (see Becker 2012).Thus there is a requirement to go beyond, as some suggest, “training engineers for handling ethical dilemmas in sustainability contexts” (Lundqvist and Svanstrom 2016) Drawing on ongoing work which has sought to use sociological theory to understand different approaches to teaching ethics this paper will present a framework for understanding approaches to engineering ethics. It is based on four different levels of analysis which emerge from the interaction of two social continua: the macro/micro and the subjective/objective and thus engages which the demand for engineering ethics to address macro ethical issues (Herkert 2005). This will be used as the basis to argue for a more integrated approach which allows us to focus on the relationship between social structure and human action and the need for “adequate social institutions and structures” (Becker 2012: 28) to enable ethical action. Thus it is argued that the key focus should be to convey an understanding of the agency/structure relationship so that engineers not only understand the constraints and enablers emanating from the environments in which they work but can also strive for change in these environments.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEESD 2018 Proceedings Creating the Holistic Engineer
Subtitle of host publicationInternational Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes
EventEESD 2018 - Glassboro, United States
Duration: 3 Jun 20186 Jun 2018


ConferenceEESD 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • Sustainability
  • Ethics education


Dive into the research topics of 'Holistic Engineering Ethics?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this