Science, Medicine & Technology Program

Summer 2020

Ethics, Technology, and Society


Professor Dr. Ashraf Ghaly, P.E.
Department Engineering
Office Olin 102D
Tel., email 518-388-6515, ghalya@union.edu

Lectures: TTH 9:00 AM-12:00 PM, Wold-028. Click HERE for instructor's class presentations.


In today’s technologically advanced society, professionals are faced with situations that require more than technical knowledge, common sense, and good judgment. Many of the issues borne by the complexity of modern day life are not only interwoven but are also multidimensional. One of these dimensions is ethics. To illustrate how ethics, technology, and society intersect, this course offers case-based situations where students will learn from well-documented cases how to engage ethics principles in the decision making process, and how to put into practice the experience gained in the classroom from discussing various scenarios and from making one’s own arguments. Four class hours. No prerequisite.


Class discussion & participation = 15%
Midterm exam (Thursday, July 16) = 35%
Term paper & presentation = 15%
Final exam (Tuesday, July 30) = 35%

90+ = A 85+ = A(-) 80+ = B(+) 75+ = B 70+ = B(-) 65+ = C(+) 60+ = C 55+ = C(-) 50+ = D




Major Topics
The course syllabus depends on a number of sources for its course materials. In addition to the case-based approach that will be used in general to illustrate ethical dilemmas, the course will address the following topics:

1. Engineers: Professionals for the Hunan Good
• Your Profession Is Part of Your Identity
• What Is a Profession?
• Engineering Is a Profession
• A Profession with a Difference: The Primacy of the Public Good
• What Is the Public Good
• But What Is Well-Being
• Prohibited Actions
• Preventing Harm to the Public
• Promoting Well-Being: Aspirational Ethics
• Aspirational Ethics and the National Academy of Engineering
• Designing for Well-Being: The Social Context of Engineering
• Adopting a Critical Attitude Toward Technology
• Getting Down to Cases
• Chapter Summary

2. A Practical Ethics Toolkit
• Introduction
• Determining the Facts: Factual Issues
• Clarifying Concepts: Conceptual Issues
• Determining How Concepts Apply: Application Issues
• Line Drawing
• Conflicting Values: Creative-Middle-Way Solutions
• Common Morality
• Additional Elements of Common Morality
• Is There a Place for Moral Theories?
• Moral Theories: Approaches as Models
• The UtiIitarian Approach
• The Cost-Benefit Test
• The Test of Maximizing Good Consequences
• The Rules and Practices Test
• The Respect for Persons Approach
• The Golden Rule Test
• The Self-Defeating Test
• The Rights Test
• The Virtue Ethics Approach
• What Is a Virtue?
• Strengths of Virtue Ethics: The Rational and Intuitive Elements in Morality
• Strengths of Virtue Ethics: Open-Ended Situations
• Deficiencies of Virtue Ethics
• Virtue Ethics: An Application
• Using Moral Theories or Approaches in Practical Ethics
• Chapter Summary

3. Responsibility in Engineering
• Introduction
• Engineering Standards
• The Standard of Care
• Blame Responsibility and Causation
• Legal Liability
• Harms: Legal Liability and Moral Responsibility
• Shifting to the Positive
• Responsibility in Design
• The Range of Standards of Practice
• Impediments to Responsibility
• The Problem of Many Hands Blind Spots
• Normalizing Deviance
• Egoistic and Egocentric Perspectives
• Microscopic Vision
• Authority Versus Autonomy
• Groupthink
• Chapter Summary

4. Engineers in Organizations

• Introduction
• Engineers and Managers
• Being Morally Responsible in an Organization
• The Importance of Organizational Culture
• Some Recommendations
• Proper Engineering and Management Decisions
• Functions of Engineers and Managers
• Paradigmatic and Nonparadigmatic Examples
• Responsible Dissent
• A Case to Consider: Richard M. Nixon v. Ernest Fitzgerald
• What Is Whistleblowing?
• Whistleblowing and Loyalty
• Whistleblowing: A Harm-Preventing Justification
• Whistleblowing: A Complicity-Avoiding View
• The Case of Paul Lorenz
• Analysis of Lorenz Case
• Roger Boisjoly and the Challenger Disaster
• Proper Management and Engineering Decisions
• Whistleblowing and Organizational Loyalty
• Chapter Summary

5. Trust and Reliability

• Introduction
• Honesty
• Forms of Dishonesty
• Lying
• Deliberate Deception
• Withholding Information
• Failure to Seek Out the Truth
• Why Is Dishonesty Wrong?
• Honesty as a Virtue
• Dishonesty and Respect for Persons
• Utilitarian Considerations
• Trust and Truthfulness
• Dishonesty on Campus
• Dishonesty in Research and Testing
• Falsification and Fabrication of Data
• Intellectual Property
• Confidentiality
• Expert Witnessing
• Informing the Public
• Conflicts of Interest
• Chapter Summary

6. The Engineer's Responsibility to Assess and Manage Risk
• Introduction
• The Engineer's Approach to Risk
• An Engineering Definition of Risk
• How Engineers Impose and Manage Risks
• Sources of Risks Managed by Engineers
• One Engineering Approach to Defining Acceptable Risk
• Expanding the Engineering Account of Risk: The Capabilities Approach to Identifying Harm and Benefit
• Difficulties in Determining the Causes and Likelihood of Harm: The Critical Attitude
• limitations in Identifying Failure Modes
• limitations due to Tight Coupling and Complex Interactions
• Normalizing Deviance and Self-Deception
• The Public's Approach to Risk
• Expert and Layperson: Differences in Factual Beliefs
• "Risky" Situations and Acceptable Risk
• Free and Informed Consent
• Equity and Justice
• Communicating Risk and Public Policy
• Communicating Risk to the Public
• An Example of Public Policy: Building Codes
• The Engineer's Liability for Risk
• The Standards of Tort Law
• Some Problems with Tort Law
• Protecting Engineers from liability
• Becoming a Responsible Engineer Regarding Risk
• Chapter Summary

7. Engineering and the Environment
• Introduction
• Development of the Modern Environmental Movement
• Silent Spring and Earth Day
• Environmental Law and Policy
• Environmental Law in the United States
• International Environmental Policy and Law
• Applying Environmental Laws-Clean Enough?
• Life Cycle Analysis
• Sustainability: The Environment Versus Human Development
• The Moral Case for Sustainable Development
• Utilitarian, Respect for Persons, and Virtue Ethics Arguments for Sustainable Development
• Environmental or Social Collapse?
• Sustainable Development and Engineering Practice
• Challenges of Implementation
• Cradle to Grave
• Cradle to Cradle
• Business and Sustainable Development
• Three Attitudes Toward the Environment
• Cultivating the Progressive Attitude
• The CERES Principle
• The 3P Program
• Cultivating the Virtue of Respect for Nature
• The Healing/Restoring Aspect of Nature
• The Emotional Effects of Experiencing the Natural World as Transcending Human Interests
• Engineers for a Sustainable World
• Chapter Summary

8. Engineering in the Global Context
• Introduction
• The Movement Toward Globalized Engineering Educational Standards
• International Professionalism and Ethics
• Do Engineering Societies Call Their Members Professional?
• Boundary-Crossing Problems
• Ethical Resources for Globalized Engineering
• Creative Middle Ways
• The Golden Rule
• Dignity: Universal Human Rights
• Development: Promoting Basic Human Well-Being
• The Resources of Virtue Ethics
• Codes of Engineering Societies
• Economic Underdevelopment: The Problem of Exploitation
• Paying for Special Treatment: The Problem of Bribery
• Paying for Deserved Services: The Problem of Extortion and Grease Payments
• Extortion
• Grease Payments
• The Extended Family Unit: The Problem of Nepotism
• Business and Friendship: The Problem of Excessive Gifts
• The Absence of Technical-Scientific Sophistication: The Problem of Paternalism
• Differing Business Practices: The Problem of Negotiating Taxes
• Chapter Summary

9. New Horizons in Engineering
• Introduction
• Environmental Responsibility and Sustainable Development
• Autonomous Vehicle Development
• Internet of Things, Big Data, and Cyber Security
• Other New Horizons for Engineering

This course will introduce ethics using a case-based approach. The main thrust of this method is to generate class discussion to illustrate the relationship between ethics and technology in today’s modern society. Cases are gathered from several sources and comprise a wide variety of situations that could be faced by professionals. Some of these cases are:

• Aberdeen Three
• Big Dig Collapse
• Bridges
• Citicorp
• Disaster Relief
• Gilbane Gold
• Greenhouse Gas Emissions
• Halting a Dangerous Project Highway Safety Improvements
• Hurricane Katrina
• Hyatt Regency Walkway Disaster
• Hydrolevel
• Incident at Morales
• Innocent Comment?
• Member Support by IEEE
• Oil Spill?
• Pinto
• Profits and Professors
• Pulverizer
• Reformed Hacker?

• Resigning from a Project Responsible Charge
• Service Learning
• Software for a Library Sustainability
• Antenna
• Scientists and Responsible Citizenry
• Where Are the Women?
• The 2010 Macondo Well Blowout and Loss of the Deepwater Horizon
• Units, Communications, and Attention to Detail-the Loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter
• Expensive Software Bug-the Loss of the Mars Polar Lander
• A Construction Inspector's Responsibility in Collapsed
• Cantilevered Balcony
• Computer Programs and Moral Responsibility-the Therac-25 Case
• Roundabouts
• Interface
• Drive by Wire and Unintended Acceleration
• Autopilot Mode and the Ethics of Autonomous Vehicles
• Volkswagen Emissions Scandal
• Water Crisis in Flint
• Artifacts, Engineering, and Ethics



1. Each student is free to choose the paper subject they like to investigate. Students in this course come from many departments, thus subjects that are closely or remotety related to a student's major are acceptable but the selected subjects must have a relationship with the course's three themes: ethics, technology, and society. Students may wish to address in their paper a case/problem of interest or work on a subject that has intrigued them but is not necessarily related to their major.

2. Students can select their subject at anytime during the term but no later than the 4th week of the term (July 16).

3. All papers must be on different subjects. A subject cannot be selected by more than one student. A student that was the first in selecting a given subject would be the only one entitled to it. The earlier you select a subject, the wider the selection available to you.

4. You have the right to drop a subject you selected and select a different one as long as this is done no later than the 4th week of the term (provided that the new subject had not been previously taken by another student).

5. Once you settled on a subject, email the instructor a title for your paper and one sentence description of your intended subject. The instructor will post the titles and the one sentence description of all papers (without the names of students) on the course's website as soon as the email has been received. This will serve as reference of subjects already taken and have become unavailable.


Students may collect the information and materials pertaining to their chosen subject from any of the following sources (in no specific order): the Internet, technical publications, professional journals, magazines, textbooks, movies, documentaries, and all other credible sources including interviews with knowledgeable individuals.

Students are required to cite in their report all the sources they used in their research. Any standard method of citation is acceptable. Internet sites are cited using the address (URL) of those sites. All other references are to be cited with the name of author, year, title of paper or book, page, and publisher.


At noon on Saturday August 3, the final electronic paper is due (email to instructor). The paper should be equivalent to at least 10 pages of text (Times font, double-spaced type with one inch margin on all sides). In addition to the 10 pages of text, students may add pictures, tables, graphs, charts, figures, and any other supplementing materials as they see fit. The total length of the paper, however, may not exceed the equivalent of 20 pages.

Grading Criteria

In addition to the written report, students are required to make an oral class presentation. The presentations will take place during the last class of the term.

The grade of this paper will be assigned based on the quality and organization of the paper, relevance of content to the subject under consideration, understanding, clarity of presentation, organization, and demonstration of ability to address questions with comprehension.

A. Ghaly HomepageUnion College Homepage