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Ethical Reasoning Frameworks

By looking briefly into the stories of successful and unsuccessful products, one may conclude that new technologies require two basic prerequisites: social acceptance of the product and the possibility to be integrated into the technological texture (Rammert 1993). Ethical questions usually arise either when new technologies affect the normative framework of a society or if technologies that are being used suddenly become problematic. The social aspect of technology has been largely overlooked by technology designers of the past, but it plays a key role with respect to ethics.

The objective of ethics quality management is to ensure that ethical conflicts are considered as soon as they arise. A prerequisite for the achievement of this objective is the categorization of ethical conflicts based on the impact of technology on society. Ethics Quality Management (EQM) EQM as a method aimed at companies and manufacturers to take social responsibility in the development and application of products and systems. It is based on an integral view of a company in a procedural approach, including the societal viewpoint, which sees a company as being embedded in a society to whose members it sells its products.

Structures and Institutions, In order to assign the responsibilities along the product development process, several institutions are necessary. These institutions should foster ethical action of individuals and coordinate conflict-solving processes. The main idea is that conflict solving should only involve parties affected by this conflict, and that it should be done in a structured way. At an individual level, Ethical Product Management requires ethically educated staff members. The level of ethical education should correspond to the level of action of an employee.

Engineers do not need to be ethical experts, but they need a minimum of ethical understanding in order to be able to identify conflicts. All members of a company should be committed to the common ethical standard of the company and/or to the standard of their professional organization. The main task of individuals is to identify and communicate existing or arising conflicts. They may also solve ethical conflicts, if those are of the business-as-usual type problems that can be solved by individuals.

Ethics Task Forces are the next institutional level, which consist of a group of engineers working in the same area. This task force reflects a kind of miniature society. Task forces have to define and adapt the global values of the company into the concrete situation. In doing so, they define a kind of groups ethics for working groups. Furthermore, they have to solve all conflicts that may not be solved by individuals. Members of the task force need enhanced ethical education. In the case of a conflict, the person reporting the dilemma joins the ethics task force.

Conflict solving is either done by the task force itself using discourse methods and recording the conflict-solving process by means of the documentation database or by including further experts into the decision-making process. If the conflict vitally affects society and/or the company, the task force applies for help from the public relations group and the Ethics Officer. Those conflicts should be treated isolated from the person reporting the conflict to prevent damage for the reporting person.

The Ethics Public Relations Group acts as an interface between society and company; its task is to include the stakeholder perspective into the engineering process. Firstly, this group defines the values, worldviews to which the employees of a company are committed. Secondly, it has to monitor the groups ethics defined by the task forces with respect to their compatibility to the general company standard. Moreover, it manages conflicts that cannot be solved by the task forces and may even decide to attract the conflict solving in cases where engineering ethics problems need participation of stakeholders.

In this case, the duty of the public relations group is to invite discussions with the public. It is of great importance that the ethics public relations group is independent from the human resources department in order to prevent negative consequences for the employees reporting ethical conflicts. On a second level, the ethics public relations group informs the public about conflict solving within the company and is open for questions from customers and for those of public interest.

In this way, transparency to society with respect to ethical decision-making within the company is created which enhances the acceptance of the company and its product. EPM Monitoring and Documentation finally has to establish and manage a database where all ethical conflicts and the found solutions are recorded. The database should be structured in such a way as to facilitate research into and profiting from similar conflict situations. Ethical conflicts should be classified and archived with the solution found for each conflict.

This can be understood as a learning process for the company where employees and task forces can learn from the knowledge and experience acquired by others in ethical conflicts. Furthermore, the database is a control tool for the management of ethical conflicts within the company and may be used for transparency to society. Classification of Ethical Conflicts and levels of solvability, According to Armin Grunwald (2000b), ethical conflicts in engineering may be differentiated into business-as-usual conflicts and Engineering- ethics conflicts; they require different conflict solving strategies.

Business-as-usual conflicts refer to types of situations where the normative framework is not affected and the choices of values are clear. In this case, there is no need for reflection about new ethical categories or strategies, but conflicts may be solved by classical prioritization of values and through a straightforward approach of ethical rules to the situation. Business-as-usual means that ethical decision-making based on rules and prioritization strategies for rivaling values is possible.

Such conflicts can usually be solved by relying on codes of conducts or engineering ethics codes and the principles stipulated in these codes. Engineering ethics conflicts are conflicts that cannot be solved simply by the application of prioritization rules, but which need reflection of ethical values and strategies themselves. More generally, they imply a reflection of ethical theories. This is generally the case with all conflicts where the normative framework of society is affected, or third parties are involved into the conflict.

In this case, there is a need for the participation of societal groups in the conflict solving process and the conflict is no longer solvable within a company alone. Building a solution for such conflicts implies both knowledge about technical tasks and knowledge about ethics. In these cases, the construction of an appropriate solution is a task of interdisciplinary reflection and decision-making. It may be necessary to develop the normative framework of society further and /or develop technology further in order to obtain sound solutions. This may imply that engineers take part in a political decision-making process.

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