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11.5.13 | Changing the Paradigm for Engineering Ethics

Ethics is widely perceived as something to be pursued separately from engineering itself, commonly manifested as an extra set of rules to follow and a certain group of behaviors to avoid. This mindset is grounded in the culturally dominant paradigm of technical rationality, which effectively treats all knowledge as procedural, stipulating a detailed series of steps to achieve an already specified outcome. However, the formulation of engineering problems and their solutions is inherently indeterminate, routinely involving the selection of a way forward from among multiple options when there is no one "right" answer. Virtue ethics thus offers a more suitable approach, because it recognizes that practical judgment is indispensable in particular concrete situations and therefore focuses on the person who acts, rather than the action itself. Beneficial character traits—i.e., virtues—emerge within the context of a specific social practice and the internal goods that are unique to it, resulting in a new framework for implementing ethics in a way that is fully integral to engineering itself.