Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Preliminary Conceptual and Philosophical Issues


Taking these to be paradigm instances of profession:

  • Medicine
  • Dentistry
  • Veterinary Medicine
  • Law
  • Architecture
  • Accounting

Five features distinguish what we now call profession from other types of occupations.

  1. “Entrance into a professing typically requires an extensive period of training and this training is of an intellectual character.”
  2. “Professionals’ knowledge and skills are vital to the well-being of the larger society.”
  3. “Professionals usually have a monopoly or near monopoly on the provision of professional services.”
  4. “Professionals often have an unusual degree of autonomy in the work place.”
  5. “Professionals claim to be regulated by ethical standards, usually embodied in a code of ethics.”

The importance of ethics to profession: -

The early meaning of the term profession and its cognates referred to a free act of commitment to a way of life. The earliest meaning of the adjective professed referred to the activity of a person who had taken the monastic vows of a religious order. We might think of a person who had made a public promise to enter a distinct way of life with allegiance to high moral ideas. One ‘professed’ to be a certain type of person and to occupy a special social role, which carried with it stringent moral requirements. By the late seventeenth century, the word had become secularized to refer to anyone who professed to be duly qualified.

So, with regard to engineering, professionalism and ethics:

To think of yourself as a professional is to believe in the importance of your work to society at large, and to be committed to various standards which transcend your relationship with a particular employer or client, to high standards of quality in your work but also to high ethical standards.


Given the importance of engineering in all modern societies, it is reasonable to expect engineers to think of themselves as professionals, and the various professional societies increasingly stress the importance of engineering ethics.

Personal ethics, Common morality and Professional ethics:

  • Common Morality: “The set of moral standards shared by most members of a culture or society.”
  • Personal Ethics: “The set of one’s own ethical commitments.”
  • Professional Ethics: “The set of standards adopted by professionals insofar as they see themselves acting as professionals.”

Obviously these three kinds of standards sometimes conflict. Luckily, very few engineers will have to make truly momentous ethical decisions in the course of their careers, but, as this course will emphasize, more quotidian ethical decisions are called for in all engineer’s careers.

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