IES - Hedgehog or Fox? The new Engineer and the old Philosopher – exploring ethics in 2024

16th April 2024 6:30 pm

The new Engineer and the old Philosopher: Hedgehog or Fox?

Ethics in engineering is assuming an increasingly important role. Codes of conduct have always been a central aspect of the engineering profession and professionalism implies ethical behaviour. The engineering curriculum has to develop the technical capabilities of engineering students and has to prepare them for the broader challenges of professional practice, including the ethical decisions that they will have to make. Ethics in engineering implies ethical dilemmas which, in turn and inevitably, is reminiscent of bad practice and disasters.

This talk argues that ethics in engineering is more than the ethical dilemma and the application of ethical principles. Ethics in engineering coincides with the social aspects of engineering and in this respect it is very similar to philosophy. For the old philosopher ethics was not just a concept, but rather “action”, i.e. acting in and for society. Similarly, the engineer is a practical individual who operates within and for society; their ethical behaviour cannot be disconnected from their profession, and the two seemingly separate issues are the same in their essence. The philosophical example from the past, i.e. ethics equals practical behaviour, is useful for those who want to appreciate ethics in action: more foxes, less hedgehogs?

Raffaella Ocone OBE FREng FRSE is the Chair of Chemical Engineering at Heriot-Watt University and Guest Professor of Multiphase Multiscale Systems at RUHR Universität, Bochum, Germany. At RUHR Universität she was awarded the first “Caroline Herschel Visiting Professor” in Engineering (July-November 2017) in recognition of her work in ethics in engineering. She is an authority on complex reactive systems and their application in the energy industry. She has co-authored a Royal Academy of Engineering report, funded by the UK government, on the biofuels industry. Her research team have recently announced a £1M research partnership under the PETRONAS Centre of Excellence in Subsurface Engineering and Energy Transition (PACESET), to advance techniques to use thermochemical reaction to produce hydrogen from biomass and other waste materials.

Raffaella has taken the lead in the teaching of engineering ethics and the role of responsible technologies for the energy transition. She chairs the Engineering Professor Council (EPC)-RAEng group and sits on the Engineering Council (EC)-RAEng Ethics Reference Group.

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