I. INDIVIDUAL EIcs
It has been argued that there have been three ideas concerning engineering ethics: "The first emphasizes company loyalty, the second technocratic leadership, the third social responsibility."' In this paper, a preliminary case is made for a new idea-or at least a new name: the social ethics of engineering. Instead of viewing ethics as a tension between the morality of the individual and the practices of society, it is suggested that the focus should be shifted to the tension between the ideal and the actual norms and structures that characterize group processes and social institutions. The focus should be the mutable social arrangements for technology decision-making. The advantage of this shift for engineering ethics is that it moves the focus from relatively powerless individuals to the actual processes of decision making in technology, thereby making engineering ethics more relevant than it has been. The advantage for the individual is that conflict is about process rather than product, and responsibility for outcomes is collective rather than just individual.
The traditional approaches to engineering ethics have become a melange of the three main ideas noted by Mitcham and the tension between them.' One result of this admixture is an advocacy of confrontation in the academic literature.?- A recent design text, for example, has a section on ethics in which admirable personal values are suggested and whistle blowing advocated as a natural consequence.' On the other hand, the professional societies and their codes are quite the opposite in character and tend to be trailing indicators of social change, with the notable exception of changes being implemented at IEEE beginning in 1996.6 Both views stress individual accountability for anything that goes wrong and neither are well focused on the collective processes where decisions about technology are made. The record of professional societies (not their members, of course) as ethical actors is spotty at best.' It is possible that the failure of the professional societies to be more independent has contributed both to the confrontational themes and to the lack of interest in collective approaches to ethics.
It has been suggested that engineers are already moral, and for engineering ethics to have meaning it must refer to a system that enhances the existing sum of the individual moralities of engineers that is already present.' The codes of ethics that engineering soceties have developed are not often taught, are not referred to by engineers in times of moral crisis,9 are not supported by the professional societies when engineers are in a crisis," or used to police the profession,ll l7 and they do not represent any values not already pervasive in society. Admirably, and exceptionally, since 1996, IEEE has been trying to implement a series of reforms to support its code of ethics, including better dissemination of information, a hotline, and defense fund.t3
Explicit in this conventional treatment of engineering ethics is the assumption that the appropriate unit of ethical analysis is the individual. This is problematic because technology is socially constructed and managed, and engineers are typically employees. While much may be learned about moral philosophy by using the individual as a unit of analysis, it is a little akin to studying atoms in order to understand a world composed of molecules, organisms, continents, rivers, and oceans. The scope of science is bigger than particle physics. Martin and Schinzinger, in their deservedly popular text, spend much time recognizing the central dilemma of the conventional approach: the employee status of most engineers. Yet they are obligated to fall back on wishful thinking. "Managers must be responsive to engineers who exercise their consciences responsibly.",4
II. SOCIA ETmcs
It is proposed here that the real issue is exploring options in the social relations of expertise, not just exploring the moral dilemmas of individuals. …