Engineering Ethics and Professionalism
In this paper, I would like to address how engineering ethics and professionalism are involved in the actions of Firestone and Ford Engineers and Executives. In this effort, I will focus intently on what exactly is meant by ethics and professionalism, and how they apply to engineers. It is possible to write and write about the Firestone case, yet if a firm knowledge of ethics and professionalism is not grasped beforehand, this would be a waste of words in light of the purpose of the paper. Webster defines ethics as “a system or set of moral principles”. Webster defines professionalism as “the standing, practice, or methods of a professional, as distinguished from those of an amateur”. In this paper I will first study in depth these two aspects and then how they apply to the Firestone case.
In order to understand how ethics and professionalism to engineers, these words must be thoroughly understood first. As stated before, ethics is defined as a system or set of moral principles. This definition itself is not so clear. What is considered moral, and what is considered a principle? I looked these up to find Webster’s definition of these as well. Moral- of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong; ethical. Principle- an accepted or professed rule of action or conduct. Given these definitions, perhaps a more thorough definition of ethics would be as follows. Ethics may be better defined as a set of rules to guide one in action according to right and wrong conduct. In order to fully understand this word, and I believe this is absolutely essential, is to have an understanding of what makes something right or wrong. This means that even though this is a computer science paper, and a computer science class, philosophy and religion must be brought into the picture. What is right, what is wrong? I was privileged to watch a debate held last week between U.S. Ambassador Alan Keyes and Alan Dershewitz concerning this issue. Alan Keyes argued that morals must be based upon God’s Word, which He believes is the Bible. Alan Dershewitz argued that there is no set of right and wrong values; only a case-by-case examination may reveal what situations are right and what situations are wrong. In short, Keyes stated that there are right and wrong values by which to build ethics upon, while Dershewitz argued that there is no absolute right or wrong and discretion must be used in each situation to determine what is right or wrong. The problem with having a set of right and wrong values, which is essential for any code of ethics to exist, is that there must be a set rigid black-and-white spelling out of what is right and wrong in order for the ethics to have any foundation. What would be the response of the people if there was a law to use ‘inherent wisdom and discretion’ in their driving speed? There would be no right, no wrong, as long as the speed could be justified by some reason. There was a law like this in Montana, and as a result, there was no principle with which to guide travelers on Montana highways. This must not be the case when establishing a solid right and wrong with which to create a code of ethics with which to examine the actions of engineers and executives. If Ambassador Keyes is right, and I believe He is, this paper should cite Biblical references to guide ethics in engineering, not what some scholar such as Dershewitz might guess would be right and wrong. This may not be what you had in mind when assigning the paper, but once again, I feel this paper would be a waste of words if I built it upon a foundation that was not solid. First I feel I may have to justify the Bible as a reliable source as a moral guide to ethics in any field. Unfortunately I feel you’d fail me if I used up the 10,000 words on this effort, but I have written far more on my personal website dedicated to this issue at www.SeektheTruth.net. In an effort to convince you that I am raising a legitimate claim, I will summarize my evidence briefly. The arguments for the historical validity of the Old Testament are overwhelming. Archaeology has uncovered more and more facts that perfectly agree with the Bible. Ancient historians of numerous nationalities of peoples have written many, many different accounts of Biblical stories, such as the flood, which to an extent, support the Bible. This is the case of many other Biblical stories as well. The difference is that the Bible is the realistic account with supporting evidence, and the others are derivatives of this story. The evidence for the resurrection and divinity of Christ is overwhelming. I have devoted a lengthy article to the examination of the Gospels, our principle source of information about Christ’s life. Once again, please visit my website, which I have devoted considerable time to, to satisfy your doubts about my intent and genuine effort in the following paper. Assuming that you will either humor me or agree with me, I shall continue. I begin with my first assumption that the Bible is this absolute code of right and wrong and therefore is the building block for all moral principles. There is the definition of ethics on solid ground at last. Now how does this book define right and wrong, and how can we draw conclusions about what is moral and what is not from it? First of all, if this is to be the guide of right and wrong, it and it alone must be used. The foundation of ethics must be secure, and conflicting or contradicting values of right and wrong cannot be used as the foundation for ethics, or they shall not be clear and stand in the face of questioning. If the Bible declares it right, it is- and if the Bible declares it wrong, it is. Now I hold before me the daunting task of summarizing what is right and what is wrong from the Bible. I have studied this for fourteen of my twenty years of life, yet in this study I feel as if I have only scratched the bare surface of the book. What I do know and what I can tell you is that all sin originated from the original sin, which is when Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God and eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is because of this sin that I have the ability and desire to set some groundwork of what is right and what is wrong upon which to establish a code of ethics. God says in Genesis 3:22, “The man has become like us, knowing good and evil.” With the introduction of evil into the world, we have the God-given ability to detect it and make the distinction between right and wrong because of the fruit that Adam and Eve ate. This is wonderful news for us, and this paper, in particular, to know that it is possible to have a definite knowledge of right and wrong. We must only know where to look and have the desire to look there to gain this knowledge. C.S. Lewis touches on one area in his book, Mere Christianity. He states that there is an inherent natural law of right and wrong already in place in our conscience. He provides substantial support for this belief in page 6.
“Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to- whether it was only your own family, or to your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.”
This is a good start to our search for right and wrong. You already have some sense in your conscience as to what is right and what is wrong. This is not merely your sense, or one that differs from person to person, but a universally respected code of ethics in place in your mind already. This is what the professional scholars use to judge ethics in engineering. They may use their wisdom and discretion from their conscience, but I draw mine from the Word of the One who placed this natural law in our minds- the One who created our minds in the first place. It is good to examine the conscience that God gave us to judge between right and wrong, yet it is not enough. Being grounded in His Word will reveal to us before the situation in question arises. In areas that are disputed, and in those areas which there is some right and wrong, God’s Word must be used to sort the mess out. The combination of the two paints a clear picture of right and wrong. Using God’s Word, I may now give a broad definition of morality. This may be obtained from the first sin- rebellion against God and His commandments is a sin. There was nothing apparently immoral about eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, yet by rebelling against God’s commandment not to eat it, Adam and Eve were sinning. Eating from the tree would seem to be a good thing if God had not commanded against it. Naturally God, being the Creator and Judge of all mankind, is the One who knows best and the One we must obey. What kind of creation would rebel against its Creator? One that is in the wrong. Being created in God’s image, we have no rights before Him. We naturally owe Him our lives, love, obedience, and respect. How else can we treat the One who has bestowed upon us such a beautiful thing as life? This seals the broad, overarching general commandment. Obey God and do not rebel against Him. Rebelling against God may be defined as breaking His commandments, as we are rebelling by placing our will above His. In rebellion, we believe that we should govern ourselves, which is rebellion against the authority He has over us. Unfortunately, all of us have rebelled at one time or another. As Paul writes in Romans 3:20-31, we are all sinners guilty of rebellion against God by disobeying Him, and the only hope of regaining a right standing in His eyes is to surrender our lives to Him.
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Himself as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- he did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the One who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”
I know that at this point you probably think I have gone too far. You may think I am completely off track and have missed the focus of the paper. In actuality, and I cannot stress this enough, a complete and total grasp of reality must be obtained before a set code of absolute right and wrong is explained, which, of course, is essential for ethics of any sort to exist. According to the Bible, we are all sinners, and deserve eternal death and separation from God because of our rebellion. What else would be expected for rebels? God in His mercy and justice decided to pay for our rebellion Himself, as we are powerless to justify our rebellion before God. He died not so that we could be able to work our way to heaven with right or good deeds, but that we might surrender to Him and give Him our lives. Thus, boasting is a vain sin, and the only good and right decision is to give up our lives to follow God and His commandments. You may not agree with me that the Bible is truthful, but once again, please understand that I am trying to the best possible paper given my knowledge, and to my knowledge the Bible is the best place to look for a clear grasp of reality and the difference between right and wrong. In a minute, I will get to the law this passage is talking about, but first I’d like to continue on some key concepts from the last one. One, we are all equally guilty of rebellion against God, my definition of wrong. By introversion, obeying God is the only right. There is a black and white standard there for right and wrong. If what is being done is against God’s Word in one way or another, it is wrong. If there is nothing wrong with the action- it is right, simply because it is not in violation of God’s Word. If you are deciding between colors, certainly there is nothing wrong with this decision. However, if one decides to worship Satan, this is in direct violation of God’s Word, and is therefore, absolutely wrong. I know most everything is not so clearly identifiable as this, so I will continue to study the above passage and paint a clear picture. The worst and most punitive of all sins is to in pride deny our Maker of His authority in our lives. This leads to having no authority in life above yourself, in which one is lead to continue sinning in a hardhearted rebellious attitude toward God. It is possible to live moment by moment in this situation doing things that are not wrong or unethical. But the fault with this person is that their heart is not right with God, the heart itself is behaving in an unethical way. Who is man to deprive God of the honor and command he deserves after creating us, giving us free will to accept or reject him- to obey or disobey, and after we all have rebelled, gives us His Son to justify eternal life to those who trust in Him? That is an immoral lifestyle, and leads to immoral behavior. This law that Paul was writing about is found in Exodus 20:1-17:
“And God spoke all these words:
‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other Gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth below or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.’”
Simply put in modern day English, here are the Ten Commandments, which contributes a great picture of what is wrong. This is absolutely essential as it is the law that spells out the absolute values absolutely necessary to build any sort of ethical principles upon. Here are the Ten Commandments put in plain English… First- have no other desires above God. This means that following common sense, we put our desire for God, the creator of our very bodies, above all other desires. According to Matthew 22:37-40 is the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets hang upon these two commandments.” To place anything in our lives as more important than God is ridiculous, for God created all but himself, and this because he is the only uncaused being as necessitated by the law of cause and effect. The second is rather simple- do not worship any image of anything, and worship the Lord God only. The third, not to misuse the name of the Lord, may be applied to many areas, including lying, killing, or basically misrepresenting the name of God through word or action. The fourth is to set aside a day of rest in the name of God to simply rest and worship and study God’s Word. The fifth commandment is to honor your father and mother. The sixth, don’t commit murder. The seventh prohibits committing sexual impurities (i.e. sex outside of marriage). The eighth is that none should steal or take what is not rightfully theirs. The ninth prohibits lying. The tenth and final commandment outlaws coveting anything of anyone else’s, including material and non-material possessions. Given this law, a set of ten definitions defining right and wrong, we finally have a definition for right and wrong for morality to stand on. This is not to say this is the easiest breakdown, but it may be simplified in one statement. To not follow God’s commandments, use our bodies, minds, or mouths in such a way as God had not intended, or to be disrespectful to God or not love Him pretty much wraps up all wrong. God, being the Creator designed us for a purpose- as any creator has a purpose for creation. God’s purpose for us, as obviously He does not need us, being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, is for us to please Him. If we are not doing what we are obligated to do, what we should be doing, what we were created for- this is not good and is wrong. Being created by our heavenly Father, we owe Him our lives. In a way far more powerful than the respect we owe our parents for bringing us into the world, we owe God so much more for actually creating us, giving us free will, giving us this beautiful thing called life, and offering that despite our imperfections, we may spend eternity with Him if we only believe in Him and ask Him for it. In this world view, which I hold to be completely and totally true, stands a standard by which to hold all things good or evil, having a firm grasp on reality and what we are here for. It is this standard that our ethics for any field may be built without fear of wrongdoing or error. This is the principle to live by and to be the rule for all ethics to stand upon. Let me sum up the definition of proper ethics, which applies in all situations (which includes engineering and is why I have gone to this length to give a proper definition of proper ethics), in the best manner to which I know how following. A system or set of moral principles, firmly established by an understanding of the scriptures given by God, our Creator, that we should do what is right and in so doing please the One who made us.
It is this revelation that finally brings us to the area of professionalism. If that is what defines ethics, where does professionalism fit in? Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:31-33, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks, or the Church of God- even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” Once again, Webster defines professionalism as “the standing, practice, or methods of a professional, as distinguished from those of an amateur”. Webster defines professional as “following an occupation as a means of livelihood”. An amateur is defined as “a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit”. In short, professionalism defined by Webster is really no more than the standing, practice, or methods of making a living as opposed to that of not. This may be expanded upon and defined by using the standard- what kind of conduct is expected from one who is being paid for the job? Certainly if one does not get the job done right or correctly this is unprofessional. If one overcharges, or in any other way miscommunicates the specifics of the work to be done, this is unprofessional. Professionalism is in my view, simply adhering to the proper code of ethics by which proper conduct may be judged. For instance, lying in any way or sort is not proper. It is just that easy. There are absolute definitions for right and wrong, and ethics merely need to be applied as pertaining to one who owes another work for money. The exchange should be clean, both sides in honest agreement concerning the work to be done. The employer should pay the engineer the stated amount of money and be flexible in what he demands of the worker. The worker must be open and straight forward with the employer, getting done on time what was promised, and to the best of his / her ability. The Bible has given us a very broad, yet detailed view of what is right and wrong, so let us now begin to apply it the Firestone and Ford case and engineers more specifically.
The National Society of Professional Engineers has published a website highlighting what it believes to be the six fundamental Canons of engineering ethics. I perfectly agree with each of these, and so would like to link them briefly with the code of ethics already established in this paper.
“The Six Fundamental Canons
Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall:
1. Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the
This canon fits in well with what Jesus says in Matthew 22:39-40. The fact is, given the fictional scenario of engineering tires for myself, I would rather buy someone else’s than make tires not properly suited for my own safety. Given this love for my own life, how much more should I be meticulous in testing the safety of tires to make sure they pose no abnormal threat should I be placed in charge of engineering tires for millions? Are not millions of lives more important than mine? Engineers should place first the safety of the creations they are designing. This is only good and right, and Biblically demanded.
2. Perform services only in areas of their competence.
This canon gets a similar response as the last one- I would want someone competent designing the things I will buy. If I or anyone else is supposed to engineer something, for the safety and quality of those buying the product, only engineers competent in doing so should.
3. Issue public statements only in an objective and truthful
This comes straight out of the ninth commandment- do not deal falsely with your neighbor, which of course means fellow man. This law also is traced to common decency toward your fellow man and the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Lying is one of the most disrespectful sins, and it will oftentimes have deadly results. People died because Firestone and Ford lied about the safety conditions of the tires and Explorers.
4. Act for each employer or client as faithful agents or
This canon may be supported by 1 Corinthians 10:31-33, in the form that when an engineer gives his or her word to work for an employer, he or she should do the work to the best of his or her ability. Once he or she has given his or her word to an employer to work for this employer, it would be deceptive not to, it would be lying as well.
5. Avoid deceptive acts.
This is covered in the ninth commandment as well- quite simply this list could have been reduced to- be honest in all situations and do your work to the best of your ability in your area of expertise. This canon number five could have easily accounted for canon numbers 3 and 4.
6. Conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and
lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation, and
usefulness of the profession.
This canon is loaded and pretty well sums up the previous five canons, I guess in the hope that they would cover anything that they didn’t think about at the time. Given the extensive definition of proper ethics I mentioned earlier, an extended definition of this canon would surely overkill proper engineering behavior. Simply acting in an honest and responsible manner as commanded in the Bible would enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of the profession.
These ethics, I would guess were not taken straight from the Ten Commandments, yet the Natural Law that C.S. Lewis described perfectly explains their correspondence. You have the God given conscience dictating right and wrong on one hand, and God’s written law on the other. This is why I went through the painstaking effort of laying out a realistic worldview for ethics, and specifically the Biblical code of ethics. I did this, because it is the overreaching final word in all areas of living. There are no engineering ethical codes that you won’t find in the Bible because natural law and God’s law match each other. God placed one in our hearts, and one in our hands. There is nothing that I could say about ethics that you won’t find in the Bible. I have heard nothing new, nor learned anything by studying so called engineering ethics and professionalism. They are merely extensions of Biblical principles written upon the conscience of man by God’s hand. I went ahead and listed some sources of places I looked for engineering ethics to prove that I have done research, yet in these I found nothing new that I have not covered in some way already.
The Firestone case is one that began years ago, and yet the issue is still not resolved and it appears it will not be resolved for quite some time. The issue of course began in the engineering rooms when the tires were created and tested for quality. I have been unable to acquire much data from this part and essential planning and testing phase of the whole problem. From what I have read, this is about all I have been able to uncover concerning wrongdoing in the situation, other than the fact that people were dying in tire accidents and the companies were hesitant and slow to recall the deadly tires. This is taken from Time.com, (article http://www.time.com/time/magazine/articles/0,3266,54426,00.html),
‘At the same time, an internal Ford memo dated March 12, 1999, showed that Firestone had "major reservations" about launching a recall of 16-in. Wilderness tires in Saudi Arabia because the two companies might then have to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S. of their action. A few months later, after Firestone continued to maintain that there was no problem with the tires, Ford unilaterally initiated a quiet replacement campaign in the Middle East, without alerting anyone. The testimony also confirmed that Firestone may well have delayed the recall a month by insisting that Ford sign a confidentiality agreement before handing over the claims data needed to uncover the problem. "We virtually pried the data from Firestone's hands," Nasser told the hearing.’
Obviously neither company is cooperating to the extent that they should, nor exercising proper care for those whose lives have been placed in their hands.
According to this recent article (http://dailynews.netscape.com/mynsnews/story.tmpl?dcicn=dallas&table=n&cat=50100&id=200012061316000271085) the latest death count from faulty Firestone tires has reached over 165 and the injury count has exceeded 200. I believe the Firestone case is open and shut. Firestone and Ford knew about problems with Firestone tires and Explorers, yet refused to do anything as that might make them look bad and cost them money. The way I see it, and I believe I see the issue quite clearly, is that there is no need for debate or argument here. Both companies are wrong for waiting so long to try and correct the problem, and not only this but also being so slow in actually fixing the problem. Why does the death toll still rise? The problem is not being fixed fast enough. The lives of people are priceless. You can neither buy life nor sell it, and each life is precious and priceless in God’s eyes as well as ours. Life is the most precious thing I own- no amount of money could possibly justify my death. Why then, how then, can Ford and Firestone continue to waste time in fixing the problem while people die? Why didn’t they fix the problem earlier? To save money? No amount of money can justify the amount of deaths and injuries caused because of their selfishness. I don’t understand how anyone could argue for the corporations- what they have done- or rather what they have not done- deserves strict punishment. Don’t get me wrong- I am quite sure there are many neat people working for these companies. No one is blanketed as more evil than anyone else simply because these people work for Firestone or Ford. The point here is that someone made errors, and should be punished. By punishing or severely fining Firestone and Ford it will send them a message- that corruption will not be tolerated by the American people. Firestone and Ford will then be forced to fire or otherwise appropriately punish those guilty within their systems. By doing this necessity they will be passing this message along- human lives are more important than saved time, more important than saved money, and more important than temporary prestige. In the end, justice will prevail and those who commit wrongdoing will be rightfully wronged in return. This leads to the unfortunate revelation though- we have all done something evil at one time or another- lying to mom, stealing from a brother, being dishonest… No one is perfect and all deserve punishment. This pretty much brings us back to where we started, that only by God’s grace can we ask forgiveness from Him for screwing up, and His love for us makes it His desire to forgive us and accept us into His kingdom. I have read many online articles, posted below, about the Firestone case. I am sorry, but I really don’t think there is much to talk about there. They are guilty of, if nothing else, screwing up big time, and should pay for it. Whether they meant to, because they are evil, or not, and it is an issue of not being thorough enough, they are at fault and should pay. Not one company, but both. Ford is guilty as well for lack of thorough testing or of buying Firestone tires in spite of knowledge that they are dangerous. It’s black and white. People died, and these people were wronged either by corporate incompetence or greed. Either way it’s bad. Any way you throw the dice- the two companies are at fault and should pay. Do you see what I’m saying? There is not much more I believe I can say. Firestone and Ford are likely guilty of canons 1, 3, 5, and 6 of the NSPE’s engineering code of conduct. They should step up to their faults and make amendments for the wrongs they have done. What more is to be required or expected? What else is to be said? No matter the intent of the two companies, a grave wrong has been done, and must be atoned for.
In conclusion, when engineering ethics and professionalism are applied to the Firestone case, both Ford and Firestone are at fault regardless of evil intent or not, and must pay whatever is asked of them from civil and law suits. If there is to be error in assessing damages, it should be made on the harsh side and in so doing send a message to businesses that insolence toward the inherent natural law written on our hearts will not be tolerated. For me to go on any further would be a waste of space, time, and effort in squeezing more out of a conclusion so clearly outlined and set in stone.
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity