You are asked to provide a response to the following ethics question. The raw material for your answer will come from your reading of:
Kidder, Chapter 1
Ford, Chapter 11
Your ethics essay should be 1½ single-spaced pages (or 3 double-spaced pages). Be specific and use examples from the readings or from your own experience. If you would rather write about an ethics topic or event of more immediate concern to you, please do so.
Ethics is the study of how decisions are made. Kidder provides us with three frameworks, or mindsets, by which he suggested humans make decisions. (One is ‘Ends-based thinking’. What are the other two?) David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times suggests a very different view about how moral decisions are made. This is from a column he wrote in April, 2009, entitled, “The end of philosophy”:
“Think of what happens when you put a new food in your mouth. You don’t have to decide if it is disgusting. You just know. You don’t have to decide if a landscape is beautiful. You just know.
Moral judgments are like that. They are rapid, intuitive decisions and evolve the emotion-processing parts of the brain. Most of us make snap judgments about what feels fair or not, or what feels good or not. We start doing this when we are babies, before we have language. And even as adults, we often can’t explain to ourselves why something feels wrong.
In other words, reasoning comes later and is often guided by the emotions that preceded it. Or as Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia memorably wrote, ‘The emotions are, in fact, in charge of the temple of morality and … moral reasoning is really just a servant masquerading as a high priest.’”
As engineers, we try to make judgments based on data rather than emotion. Is this defensible? Does this result in the best possible outcomes? Or should an engineer allow emotional response to play a role in decision-making?
“Engineer’s Lament” is a fascinating article by Malcolm Gladwell (The New Yorker, May 4, 2015) that deals with this question. You can find the article on ANGEL under the lessons tab. Gladwell makes the point that engineers train themselves to focus on the problems, not the circumstances. What is the problem? Is there a traceable pattern of causation? Can it realistically be fixed? Consider the story of the Ford Pinto. It had a tendency to burst into flame when rear-ended. To view the carcass of such an inferno was horrifying. What should be the response of an engineer? Is this a clear case of a car company marketing a car with a defect as Ralph Nader and the media would suggest? With the benefit of hindsight, what seems clear to us now was not so clear in the moment. What was the problem? Was there an engineering fix to the problem? “Engineer’s Lament” tells the story from the point of view of those responsible for spotting defects in Ford products at the time.
There are lessons here for all engineers. There are facts and there are facts. As an engineer working for Ford, when should you be swayed by numbers and graphs? As the father of daughters, when should the horror of the tragedy guide your response, even if the likelihood is vanishingly small?
The question for you to consider in your ethics essay is this: “What is the role of emotion in ethical decision-making?”
Is this question part of your Assignment?
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