The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has derived its own code of ethics of engineers which was first adopted on March 7, 1976 (ASME). The code of ethics has since been revised fifteen times with the latest revision being held in February 2012. The Committee of Past Presidents and Ethics Committee of ASME are responsible for the revision and updating of the code of ethics of engineers. The ASME code of ethics of engineers is divided into two parts. The first part contains the fundamental principles while the second part contains the fundamental canons. There are three fundamental principles and ten fundamental canons.
An analysis of the fundamental canons shows that at least 90 percent of them focus on positive injunctions. The positive injunctions begin with the phrase “Engineers shall….”. According to Ladd (118), positive injunctions are those statements that require the adherents to be decent and active in the conduct of the prescribed acts. This can be compared to the negative injunctions which consist of prohibitions against the said acts. The massive use of positive injunctions indicates a significant observance of the Kantian ethics. According to Kantian ethics (Immanuel Kant), the duty or right is treated as prior to the good. Furthermore, according to Humphreys (6), positive injunctions provides benefits while preventing or removing harms. For instance, the first fundamental canon of ASME states that: “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties.” (ASME 1). This is a positive injunction since it describes the considerations that engineers must make while carrying out their duties. In this injunction, the benefit is the successful completion of the project or duty without safety or health issues. The averted harm includes the safety, health, and welfare risks to the general public.
Another reason as to why the ASME opted to use more positive injunctions as compared to the negative prohibitions is to avoid the sharp and determinate prescriptions which are presented by the negative injunctions (Ladd 123). The negative prohibitions define their objectives clearly by stating the conditions of violation. This allows no freedom of choice and may end up constraining the engineers rather than directing them to the preferred ethics. Therefore, ASME can be said to be widely applying the ethics of direction rather than ethics of constraints. However, the few negative prohibitions employed in number four, seven, and nine of the fundamental canons may have been introduced by ASME in order to draw a sharp line between the permitted acts and wrong acts (Ladd 123). The negative prohibitions are employed in those ethics that might lead to conflicts between the engineers and public, government, the society, or among themselves. For instance, number nine of the fundamental canons states that: “Engineers shall not seek ethical sanction against another engineer unless there is a good reason to do so under the relevant codes, policies, and procedures governing that engineer’s ethical conduct.” (ASME 2). Failure to comply with this ethic might lead to serious conflicts among the engineers and therefore necessitates the need for clearly presenting the conditions of violation.
Two ethical theories mentioned by Chonko (2) are utilized in deriving the code of ethics of engineer by ASME. These theories are the utilitarianism and the rights ethical theories. The utilitarianism ethical theories consider the most ethically correct choices to be those that yield the greatest benefit to most people (Chonko 2). The utilitarianism ethical theories might be rule utilitarianism or act utilitarianism where rule utilitarianism consider societal constraints while act utilitarianism considers personal acts. Fundamental canons number one to number eight follows the utilitarianism ethical theory. Fundamental canons number nine and ten observe the rights ethical theory. In the rights ethical theory, the most ethically correct choices are those that refer to the rights which have been established and protected by the society. The utilitarianism ethical theories are highly applicable in Mechanical engineering since most mechanic engineering involve and influence many other people who are not members of the society. Furthermore, the rights ethical theory is applicable to mechanical engineers in order to protect them from unfair practices by other engineers. In order for the rights ethical theory to be useful for the Mechanical engineers, it must be applied together with another ethical theory (Chonko 3). As such, the rights ethical theory is collaboratively applied together with the utilitarianism theory at ASME.
The code of ethics of engineers in ASME encompasses most of the ethical issues that challenge mechanical engineers. However, the code of ethics might be improved by including the current development in technology. The current ASME code of ethics was last revised in 2012 and may require further revision to include the use of autonomous systems in mechanical engineering.
Autonomous systems are those systems that can fully control themselves without human involvement (i.e. robotic technology). The development of these systems in mechanical engineering, especially in the production of automobiles, has led to the dilemma on ethical implications and responsibilities of the actions undertaken by the autonomous systems. The current code of ethics of engineers in ASME does not consider the implications arising from the involvement of autonomous systems. Furthermore, the code of ethics of engineers at ASME needs to be improved to incorporate the impact of the displacement of human in the industry due to the autonomous systems. The growth of the autonomous systems in different mechanical engineering industries will eventually lead to some mechanical engineers (who are members of the society) to be laid off. Therefore, ASME might have to reconsider a revision of the current code of ethics of engineers.
- ASME. “Ethics In Engineering & Engineering Groups”. Asme.Org, 2012, https://www.asme.org/about-asme/get-involved/advocacy-government-relations/ethics-in-engineering. Accessed 30 Mar 2018.
- Chonko, Larry. Ethical Theories. DSEF, 2012.
- Humphreys, Kenneth King. What Every Engineer Should Know About Ethics. 1st ed., Marcel Dekker, 1999.
- Ladd, John. The Structure Of A Moral Code. 2nd ed., Wipf & Stock, 2004.