The Columns

U.Va. Professor Deborah Johnson to Lecture on Ethics in Engineering

— by on February 14th, 2017

“Codes of ethics are not meant to be a simple set of rules that engineers are to follow blindly. They are promulgated with the intent to set expectations for others, to present the collective wisdom of engineers in a form that can broadly guide members, help socialize new members and inspire engineers to behave well and exhibit moral courage in situations where it is needed.”

Deborah Johnson

Deborah G. Johnson, the Olsson Professor of Applied Ethics and Emeritus, Science, Technology and Society Program in the Department of Engineering and Society at the University of Virginia, will lecture at Washington and Lee University on March 8. Her talk will be at 5 p.m., preceded by a reception at 4:30 p.m., in the Hillel House Multipurpose Room.

Johnson will speak on “Does Engineering Need a Code of Ethics?” Her talk is sponsored by the Roger Mudd Center for Ethics and the Physics and Engineering Department.

“A multitude of engineering organizations in the U.S. and worldwide have adopted codes of ethics and professional conduct,” said Johnson. “Yet the necessity of such codes has been challenged. Criticisms vary from claiming that codes of ethics are merely window dressing, to the claim that they lead to complacency, to the claim that they are ineffective because they lack enforcement power. Although these criticisms are worthy of attention, they fail to acknowledge that engineering codes of ethics are part of a broader strategy that engineering has adopted to clarify its role in the world and to set expectations by communicating that role to multiple audiences, including the public, employers, individual engineers and others who are affected by the work of engineers.

“Codes of ethics are not meant to be a simple set of rules that engineers are to follow blindly,” she added. “They are promulgated with the intent to set expectations for others, to present the collective wisdom of engineers in a form that can broadly guide members, help socialize new members and inspire engineers to behave well and exhibit moral courage in situations where it is needed.”

Best known for her work on computer ethics and engineering ethics, Johnson’s research examines the ethical, social and policy implications of technology, especially information technology.

In 2015, Johnson received the Weizenbaum Award from the International Society for Ethics and Information Technology and in May 2009, received an honorary degree (Doctor of Philosophy honoris causa) from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Linköping University in Sweden.