The 4 E’s introduces engineering students to basic moral concepts and to the idea of a professional ethic. It has a clear, concrete focus and will be useful in helping scientists and engineers to be mindful of the role that values play in making professional judgements and to recognise and manage value conflicts that may arise in professional life.
The book begins by noting difficulties in defining morality and then offers a formal definition (that is, ?the evaluation of the rights and wrongs of human conduct?). John links morality to professional ethics and sees professional ethics as a set of rules or a code aimed at regulating professional conduct.
Morality is further characterised as an intellectual frame-work that permits us to decide which alternative is better. Morals are said to be related to values, of which utility is only one. The activity of moral evaluation is linked to one‘s world view, defined as an overarching synergy of culture and education. While moral values are related to social values, they are not reduced to such.
There is an interesting section on the identification and management of moral conflict, with an emphasis on the role of codes of ethics, and the importance, in applied ethics, of correctly identifying facts; for facts take on moral relevance.
There follows a brief exposition of the main ethical theories, virtue theory (Aristotle), utilitarianism (Mill), and deontological theory (Kant) followed by some basic criticisms of these views.
While it might sound too theoretical so far, in fact, each unit of theory introduced in the text is followed by practical, real world examples, that draw attention to some element of value conflict, eg between development and potential or actual environmental damage, or engineering works that might threaten an endangered species and the like. Following these examples are a series of questions to prompt discussion and reflection in developing one‘s own view of the issues: the practical imperative in this book is never absent.
The traditional triple bottom line evaluation of proposals is Economic, Social & Environmental. John has modified this to include the social within in the ethical dimension and under ?economic? is a requirement that funds be set aside for potential use in remediation. He augments these 3 E‘s with that of Engineering, whose own imperatives include that of professional competence.
The last chapters are replete with practical examples of issues involving rights, resource use and equity that can then be assessed in light of the 4 E‘s including that of different moral perspectives.
The theoretical material could be expanded upon, as could the section on the nature of moral disagreement, though I guess, in that case, it would not be an introductory book on practical ethics for scientists but be in danger of becoming a philosophy text on the nature of moral evaluation!! – so much for my bias.
John is Professor of Natural Resources Engineering at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University and is Honorary Professor at Wismar, University of Technology Business and Design in Germany.
He is President of the International Union of Biological Sciences and chairs their bioethics committee. In addition, he is President of the International Society of Zoological Sciences and a Councillor of the Royal Society of Victoria.