A "Virtuous" Approach to Ethics in Engineering

Originally delivered Oct 14, 2009
Developed by: AIChE
  • Type:
    Archived Webinar
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Breakneck progress in many technological arenas has spawned ethical questions of unprecedented complexity, ranging from Internet privacy to global warming to stem cell research. Yet economic and social globalization has created a landscape in which there is no agreement on how to approach such questions. Most scientists and engineers have little training in ethics, and can wander into rigid legalism or bland relativism – especially early in their careers. This webinar seeks to promote thinking more clearly and professionally about ethics by cultivating a clearer sensitivity about situations that have ethical dimensions, as well as a more explicit approach to ethical reasoning and logic.

The approach is based upon “virtue ethics,” which is a natural and intuitive mode of analysis that has a long tradition of use dating back to the ancient Greeks. Deciding what to do in a complex case begins with examining the consequences of each possible choice. Some of these consequences are external to you, representing concrete events that you can observe directly. Other consequences connect to your attitudes and intentions, since making any particular choice imprints your tendency to do what is right in the future. Explicit consideration of these latter consequences represents a key insight of virtue ethics: that in some respects you become what you do. Finally, all the consequences must be weighted by your assessment of their gravity and likelihood before integrating them into a final decision. Examples of this approach in typical engineering contexts will be given.

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Edmund Seebauer

Edmund G. Seebauer is James W. Westwater Professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he has served on the faculty since 1988.  He served as department head during 2005-11, and as a campus-level Provost Fellow for international academic programs during 2011-14.

Seebauer received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois in 1983, and his PhD from the University of Minnesota in 1986 – both degrees in chemical engineering.  His research focuses on defect engineering with applications in nanoscale systems and...Read more



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