Curriculum  |  ,   |  January 15, 2006

MIT ESD.932: Engineering Ethics

Curriculum. Graduate level. This course introduces the theory and the practice of engineering ethics using a multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural approach. Theory includes ethics and philosophy of engineering. Historical cases are taken primarily from the scholarly literatures on engineering ethics, and hypothetical cases are written by students. Each student will write a story by selecting an ancestor or mythic hero as a substitute for a character in a historical case. Students will compare these cases and recommend action.

This course is presented in three parts: theory; case studies; and research and presentation. The greater part of the time in this course is spent in Part 2 on the engineering ethics case studies. The course will be graded from a mid-term covering Part 1 and some topics in Part 2, and from a major paper and presentation. This is a group project on a topic from Part 2, pulling together in-depth research by individuals in Part 3.

Part 1 consists in ethics, philosophy of engineering, and the engineering ethics case study methodology. Major features of Western ethics in the Greek and Latin traditions are studied. Kant, Mill, Kierkegaard and Augustine are among the readings. Ties from the West to other cultural traditions are made by the narrative approach to ethics with emphasis on mythic stories. Joseph Campbell is principal consultant. Philosophy of engineering is laid down in the four major categories of philosophy: metaphysics, ethics, epistemology and education. Readings include, respectively: Aristotle’s The Metaphysics; Pinkus’ Engineering Ethics; Vincenti’s What Engineers Know And How They Know It; B. V. Koen’s Discussion of the Method; and Harvard University’s General Education in a Free Society and ASEE’s Grinter Report.

Part 2 consists in engineering ethics case studies. Historical cases are taken primarily from the scholarly literatures on engineering ethics, and hypothetical cases are written by students. Each student will write a story by selecting an ancestor or mythic hero as a substitute for a character in a historical case. Students will compare these cases and recommend action. Readings include: Harris’ Engineering Ethics; and Broome’s The Concrete Sumo.

Part 3 readies the students for their major papers. Cases are selected and teams are organized around them. The cases are studied in-depth in pairs of approaches as was done in Part 2. The in-depth studies are assigned by the team, but conducted by individuals. Dry runs for the presentations are conducted.