If you think engineering has an intrinsic moral dimension, please share your point of view.

I think it does, but I would love to hear other points of view.

  • 1
    Broad questions and soliciting users' opinions are off-topic on this site. You can find general information in online encyclopedias, e.g. Wikipedia's Engineering Ethics.
    – Conifold
    Jul 13, 2018 at 4:40
  • I made an edit to emphasize the question in the title. You may roll this back or continue editing. This seems very broad and primarily opinion based. It may get closed, but we'll see. Think of other questions related to this. Perhaps link these questions to some philosopher of science to focus them more. Jul 13, 2018 at 4:40
  • "intrinsic moral dimension" ? What does it mean ? Engineering is "to solve problems"; of course some solutions may cause damages (pollution, etc.). Jul 13, 2018 at 6:40
  • I wonder if there is any human activity that has no moral dimension. It seems unlikely.
    – user20253
    Jul 13, 2018 at 10:28
  • Engineers, like doctors and lawyers, act as a conduit for specialized things to the public. If engineers are bad, they will necessarily harm others. This relationship could be called a trust or stewardship. Jul 13, 2018 at 15:11

3 Answers 3


Moral considerations apply to all human activities, engineering no less than any other. In this sense engineering has an intrinsic moral dimension; and this fact is expressed in the existence of a code of engineering ethics which is widely recognised.

Engineering ethics is a form of professional ethics ... which requires reflection on the specific social role of engineers. One recent text- book emphasizes that

engineering ethics is a type of professional ethics and as such must be distiguished from personal ethics and from the ethical obligations one may have as an occupant of other social roles. Engineering ethics is concerned with the question of what the standards in engineering ethics should be and how to apply these standards to particular situations. (Harris, Pritchard, and Rabins 1995, 14.)

By emphasizing the ethical obligations of engineering as a profession, this current approach aims to ensure that engineers meet their obligation to the public - often formalized in the codes of ethics of professional engineering societies - regardless of any pressures they may encounter working in a corporate environment. Whether emphasizing individual moral reasoning or professionally normative standards, engineering ethicists have been particularly concerned to help ensure that the engineer will resist social pressures on the job. Textbooks in engineering ethics cover a number of issues facing engineers, including avoiding conflicts of interest, protecting trade secrets and confidentiality, right to dissent, professional responsibility, and the obligation to protect public safety, health, and welfare. Our focus is on the last of these moral issues, protecting public safety, which we feel can benefit from a more sustained engagement with engineering practice. We believe that an understanding of moral theory and a recognition of the importance of professional codes of ethics are important components of engineering ethics instruction. However, mitigating potential threats to public safety requires engineers to reflect on the way workplace practices shape routine decisions that may lead to undesirable outcomes. Knowing what to do - whether by practicing autonomous moral reasoning or by following professional codes of conduct - may be insufficient to prevent harm if the engineer is not skilled in recognizing potential problems. (William T. Lynch and Ronald Kline, 'Engineering Practice and Engineering Ethics', Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Spring, 2000), pp. 195-225 : 197.)


Harris, Charles E., Jr., Michael S. Pritchard, and Michael Rabins. 1995. Engineering ethics: Concepts and cases. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. ISBN 10: 0534605796 / ISBN 13: 9780534605797.

Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science. 1999. [Online]. Available: http://onlineethics.org

William T. Lynch and Ronald Kline, 'Engineering Practice and Engineering Ethics', Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Spring, 2000), pp. 195-225.


In Canada, engineers usually swear an oath when they finish their bachelor's degree.



I believe there is something similar in the USA, and I think the UK.



An oath that talks about honor, and that has a visible token in the ring, sure seems like they intend it to have a moral component.

  • In the US, to my knowledge, there's no oath but licensed engineers are subject to the ethical rules of their governing Board (or boards). Jul 14, 2018 at 3:22

Human life has an intrinsic moral dimension, and as such all we do has an intrinsic moral dimension. Engineering as done in the context of a human society thus has an intrinsic moral dimension just by being done in that context.

Same as all other disciplines when done by humans.

But we can well imagine contexts without the society, such as the actions of the last man on earth, when he does engineering. Assuming he really is the last man, he knows it, he knows all his engineering won't bring back other humans... well there is no more morality to pretty much anything he does.

In that context we can imagine there is no moral dimension to his engineering, and this reveals that engineering itself as a discipline has no intrinsic moral dimension. It has a moral dimension when done in human society, but not an one that is intrinsic to engineering. It is intrinsic to human action in society.

  • I agree with you. When I was contemplating becoming an engineer, I wanted to stayed away from developing applications that I thought might cause harm to people, (even accidentally).
    – Guill
    Jul 16, 2018 at 23:39

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