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Definition of Ethics???

Definition of Ethics???

Definition of Ethics???

Food for thought.  I have seen ethics used in several different contexts, but generally meaning the same things.  What is your definition of the word ethics? What rules of thumb to you use to apply ethics?

My definition is:  a set of guidelines based on values (personal and professional) that are used to help make decisions

Rule of thumb:  Do I want my name associated with a particular decision?  Do I want my parents, children, or family to know I made a particular decision?

RE: Definition of Ethics???

That seems to be the basic problem with ethics discussions: "my definition..."

Ethics discussions always devolve into "I feel that..." or "You should/shouldn't..." without any basis.

What about some documented existing working definitions?  (I have some, but I'm waiting to see what turns up.)

RE: Definition of Ethics???

Ethics in general is a amorphous topic, typically transmogrifying as one learns.

One must specify what they are centering their ethical believes around. For example -
ecocentric, biocentric, community-centric, world-centric, euro-centric, theocentric, vitacentric ...

Vita sine litteris mors est.

RE: Definition of Ethics???

It seems in that regard, the difficulty in defining "ethics" is similar to that defining "quality".  It is relative (isn't everything?).

RE: Definition of Ethics???

I don't think pi is relative


Greg Locock

Please see FAQ731-376 for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips.

RE: Definition of Ethics???

  In absolute terms, I agree, pi is not relative.  But in practical use, isn't it relative to how many decimal places you take it out to?

RE: Definition of Ethics???

A biblical-centered set of ethics was the basis of civil law for a long time in the US.

I'm afraid that, until a fundamental set of traditional values becomes accepted by citizens and lawmakers, the question of ethics remains nebulous and difficult to define. And CEO's and others will continue to lie, cheat, steal, and abuse the trust place in them.

RE: Definition of Ethics???

Maybe I should have been more specific.  

Dictionary.com defines
ethic - "A set of principles of right conduct."  "A theory or a system of moral values"

ethics - "The rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession"

ethics - "The study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person; moral philosophy."

I wasn't necessarily trying to get into a discussion on any particular set of ethics or ethical codes.  How would you define the word ethic or ethics if someone were to ask you in a general conversation?

RE: Definition of Ethics???

Tick--We wouldn't need an Ethics forum if there were cut and dried guidelines.  There's something quite wrong with the line of argument that goes "I can't point to an exact definition of ethics so therefore nothing can be considered unethical."  Just because something's abstract doesn't mean it doesn't exist.


Eng-Tips guidelines:  FAQ731-376

RE: Definition of Ethics???

Can an act be ethical yet immoral? or moral and unethical?

If not, then it seems to me that the confusion between the two is complete and this thread should move to the grammar forum so the old ladies can talk about it.


Greg Locock

Please see FAQ731-376 for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips.

RE: Definition of Ethics???

First of all, pi is relative. I like cherry and Boston Creme pi, my son loves blueberry pi, my wife and daughter like strawberry pi.

Finally ethics is like a pretty girl. It is really hard to describe what would comprise a pretty girl, but when you see one, you know it.
In the end we are all responsible for deciding what we believe is right and learning to battle rationalizing what is not. I think in all honesty, it is a lifetime struggle through which we constantly grow.
Adopting a set of common ethics is not as important as truely deciding what we personally believe to be right and having the courage of our convivictions. We need to fight for something not because some group said it was right, but because we believe it is right.

RE: Definition of Ethics???

So, people's careers should be ruined for breaches of ethics that are not defined until someone decides that "there oughta be a law?"

My experience is that most people's ethics fall apart when they develop a need for childish retribution.  Few and far between are those who an behave gracefully when they come up on the hort end fair-and-square.

I could be the world's greatest underachiever, if I could just learn to apply myself.
http://www.EsoxRepublic.com-SolidWorks API VB programming help

RE: Definition of Ethics???

Web search for the following:

“NSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers”

We know that taking work done at the previous employer to the next office is not cool.  We know to design for safety and environment issues, even when someone wants cheap.  We know not to be deceptive.  The Golden Rule and such social practices make for good ethical training.

That reminds me, I need to do some creative accounting for my expenses (just kidding?).


RE: Definition of Ethics???

Overall, maybe I am confused, but I consider ethics to be a social code, arrived at through trial and error, after input from all sides.  But my morals are an internalized code, also arrived at through trial and error, but after observing, thinking and trying things.  We all try to make them coincide, but we are only human.

I agree with your initial Rule of thumb, and I use it everyday.  BUT I apply that to morals, not ethics; which takes me to Greg's question.

Illegally invading and overthrowing a foreign sovereign which has not threatened you seems to currently be ethical, yet I personally consider it immoral.  I do not think it is wrong to have an abortion, self-administer an intoxicant or to marry someone you love (regardless of their sex or yours), so to me these are all moral actions.  But each seems to be becoming more unethical everyday...and with every election cycle.  Which segues nicely into plasgears' points.

I am an Atheist and a liberal.  Hence, our morals are probably 180 degrees different.  But we can each strive to adhere to a common code of ethics as engineers, while fighting for a different code of political ethics.  Our ethics regarding dessert may or may not be different...

I'm with you on cherry and Boston Creme pi...your son, wife and daughter need to take on a better Code of Dessert Ethics;)

Remember: The Chinese ideogram for “crisis” is comprised of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.”

RE: Definition of Ethics???

Quote (HgTX):

Just because something's abstract doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
Au contraire, it means exactly that.

Quote (dictionary):

ab·stract (?b-str?kt', ?b'str?kt')
Considered apart from concrete existence: an abstract concept

Thane's first definition fits well in context of a professional arena.  A standard of conduct (most often based on moral values, individual or collective).

When I am so moved to take action against something I believe is wrong, I make it a point to confront the issue of conduct, not belief.  That is what is vital about ethics.  Ethics allow us to agree on our conduct.  Agreement on belief only ever happens by accident.

RE: Definition of Ethics???

It seems that to disagree with a certain post above is an invitation to be red flagged.  I must strongly agree with TheTicks comment though, "Ethics allow us to agree on our conduct.  Agreement on belief only ever happens by accident."
Rather than trying to inject theology into the discussion, how about defining ethics by using the golden rule?  Do unto others...

RE: Definition of Ethics???

Ah, but to conduct oneself in accordance with an ethical system, isn't it generally beneficial (if not essential) to agree with the values / beliefs upon which the ethical system is founded?  If you believe strongly enough to the contrary, your ethical system will differ, and thus your conduct.  I guess what I'm saying is that I disagree with TheTick's statement, at least as I read it.

Anyway... those of differing theologies can most certainly agree on a system of professional ethics in engineering (the only ethics discussions that are topical in this forum, last I checked), as we're dealing with only a small subset of values / beliefs upon which to found the system.  The NSPE code of ethics (http://www.nspe.org/ethics/eh1-code.asp) provides a good illustration of this... it's based on six founding principles (fundamental canons), none of which depend upon one's belief (or lack thereof) in a higher power.

RE: Definition of Ethics???

I don't feel that beliefs should enter into the discussion.  The NSPE code of ethics is based on principals, as you stated, "none of which depend upon one's belief (or lack thereof) in a higher power."

Your own personal values may be based on your beliefs, but again, beliefs are relative.  Everyone does not have to believe in the same things to agree on common values.  A druid engineer can share the same values with a jewish, muslim or rasta engineer, even though their beliefs vary greatly.

RE: Definition of Ethics???

Values, beliefs, principles... when talking about the foundation of a code of ethics, these words can all be used interchangably (at least in my opinion).  Sounds like my disagreement may simply be a matter of semantics.

RE: Definition of Ethics???

I think that TheTick was trying to say that the reasons (beliefs) behind the ethic are not as important as agreement in the ethic.  For example, we may all agree that The Golden Rule is a good ethical rule to live by.  However, some of us may belief that for religous reasons, others may belief it for simply 'backscratching' reasons, and others may believe its supports preservation of the species.  We agree in the conduct  prescribed by The Golden Rule, even though we may have different beliefs as to why it is a good ethic.

Good Luck
As a circle of light increases so does the circumference of darkness around it. - Albert Einstein

RE: Definition of Ethics???

Well said, CajunCenturion.

RE: Definition of Ethics???

A code of ethics is a set of rules that is constructed to establish the boundaries of acceptable behavior for the group of individuals who are governed by that code. It does not require those individuals to have any "buy in" in terms of either moral or religious convictions. So a code of ethics does not necessarily coincide with the internal belief systems of those that it governs.


RE: Definition of Ethics???

I think within every religion some form of ethics developed because it was considered a good thing and respect of the rules could easily be inforced within the religious framework (an omniscent and omnipotent creature would prosecute anybody who violates the rules). However, religion is not required to have ethics (without religion however you need to replace God by police and judges, not nearly as impressive).

The aim of ethics IMHO is to put certain boundaries to the extent of which people are allowed to have their personal interests prevail over the general interest. The golden rule is a bit limited description. For example, company X bribes civil servant Y in country Z to obtain a contract. Two backs are scratched, nobody seems to get hurt, still unethical. Why? Personal interest of obtaining the contract prevailed over general interest to fight corruption. Many people will think that's the wrong order = will find this unethical. But there are zillions of cases where the order of priorities, i.e. the fact whether an act is ethical or not, is open for discussion.

RE: Definition of Ethics???

Ethics is about situations more than religion.  Some issues are not clear.  Consider some situations, some clear and others less clear.  Usually an ethical person knows when a potential course of action might smell bad.  The variations performed adjust a situation may be where ethics really kicks in.

Company Loyalty; if you work for Ford.  Do you buy a Ford or GM?  Do you buy Ford or GM stock?  

Conflict of interest avoidance; Let’s say that you specify heat exchangers.  Heat exchanger company A has an extensive technical training program.  Consider the issues brainstorming the -  “what ifs”:
It is available for free.  
held in a resort.  
they cover all expenses.
you are just about to issue an inquiry for bids
you are about to receive bids
Would it always be wrong to go?  Are there situations when this is permitted?  Would it be better if you let the company know about the invitation?
Would it be OK if your company paid even when the supplier offered to cover the expenses?

Issues may include confidentiality, legal compliance, antitrust avoidance, insider information, customer policies, gifts, entertainment, employment of customers – or competitors with special knowledge, anti-boycott compliance

What if you are involved in a proposal and your customer offers you a copy of a competitor’s proposal or the basis of selection for a contract?

Do you disclose your political activities that may be inconsistent with your companies business?

Are there situations where one project is over and another under budget?  Do you ever consider casual timesheet or progress reporting to fit within the goals or guidelines?

When or how should you report activities by others that appear irregular?



RE: Definition of Ethics???

There's a difference between ethics on a "human" level (your own interest versus the general interest) and ethics on company level, like company loyalty (your own interest versus the company's interest).

I tend to attach more importance to the first category than the second. If I work with Ford, like my job and my salary, but genuinely think GM is better value for money in spite of my daily efforts at work, why should I be morally obliged to give up my job with Ford before buying a GM in my private life wouldn't smell bad? Turn it around: why should my company want to make money on me if they sell me lesser quality products than the competition?

The heat exchanger thing is a different story, when it comes to having personal pleasure prevail over sound business decision-making, something definitely smells bad.

RE: Definition of Ethics???

It is interesting that you bring up the difference between ethics.  I will postulate that ethics is a hierarchical system.  If you were to overly a system of ethics over Maslov’s hierarchy, i.e. associating the ethical rules to the corresponding need, you’d have a very good picture of ethical differences and contradictions, as well as their inherent priorities.

Good Luck
As a circle of light increases so does the circumference of darkness around it. - Albert Einstein

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