The idea that engineering makes a positive contribution to human well-being is a central aspect of engineering identity and a particularly important motivation to current undergraduate engineering students. The Grand Challenges put forward by the National Academy of Engineering, for example, take as their foundation the belief that the 20th century was a time in which “engineering revolutionized and improved virtually every aspect of human life.” From a historical perspective, however, the relationship between engineering and social justice is complicated, particularly to the extent that engineers work for employers and their clients under the demands of business environments.
Deborah G. Johnson, one of the leading experts in engineering ethics, has recently suggested that the social responsibility of engineers should be understood not as the product of a social contract between the profession and society, but rather as a form of accountability in which engineers and the organizations of which they are a part assume obligations to explain and justify behavior and share norms regarding what needs to be explained, what counts as an adequate explanation, and what consequences might follow. As Johnson aptly points out, “Engineers are not required to explain or justify their behavior to publics until something goes wrong or until engineers—in the act of whistleblowing—bring something to the attention of a public.” Johnson urges us to pay attention to the ways in which the “social responsibilities of engineers are constructed and manifested through concrete practice in which norms and expectations are manifested and enforced.” The integration of engineering ethics with the perspectives of Science, Technology, and Society (STS) provides a framework for understanding the interaction between norms, expectations, and practices. In this lecture, Johnson will provide a roadmap for such integration.
Deborah G. Johnson recently retired as the Anne Shirley Carter Olsson Professor of Applied Ethics in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences of the University of Virginia. Johnson received the John Barwise prize from the American Philosophical Association in 2004; the Sterling Olmsted Award from the Liberal Education Division of the American Society for Engineering Education in 2001; and the ACM SIGCAS Making a Difference Award in 2000. Johnson is the author or editor of iComputer Ethics/i, iComputers, Ethics, and Social Values/i (co-edited with Helen Nissenbaum), iEthical Issues in Engineering/i, and iEthical Issues in the Use of Computers/i (co-edited with John Snapper). She has published over 50 papers in a variety of journals and edited volumes. She co-edits the journal Ethics and Information Technology and co-edits a book series on Women, Gender, and Technology for University of Illinois Press. Active in professional organizations, Johnson has served as President of the Society for Philosophy and Technology, President of the International Society for Ethics and Information Technology (INSEIT), Treasurer of the ACM Special Interest Group on Computers and Society, Chair of the American Philosophical Association Committee on Computers and Philosophy, the Executive Board of INSEIT, and the Executive Board of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics.