Do Engineers have Social Responsibilities?




ABSTRACT Most American engineers believe that they have a responsibility for the safety and well-being of society, but whence does this responsibility arise? What does it entail? After describing engineering practice in America as compared with the practice of other professions, this paper examines two standard types of accounts of the social responsibilities of professionals. While neither provides a satisfactory account of the social responsibilities of American engineers, several lessons are learned by uncovering their weaknesses. Identifying the framework in which professional rights and responsibilities are justified, I argue that an end or primary good is the starting place for conceptualizing a profession, and justifying its existence and shape. Too little attention has been paid to the end(s) of engineering. The social responsibilities of American engineers as defined in the present system of engineering are ambiguous and weak. I indicate how the case for assigning American engineers stronger social responsibilities must be made by starting with the end(s) of engineering. I argue that, at present, American engineers do not have social responsibilities as engineers, though they do have social responsibilities as persons.