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Ethics as a framework for society?

  1. Oct 27, 2004 #1


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    Since beginning my university studies in the area of Engineering Physics, I have heard many descriptions of mathematics. Slowly, a picture has developed in my mind of mathematics as a logic based, internally self-consistent framework...a solid foundation upon which the echelons of the natural sciences rest firmly. The rigourously defined and proven mathematical theorems, where applicable, permit systematic and quantitative inquiry into the natural world. Examples might include probing the physical geometry of spacetime, or applying probabilty theory to predict the distribution of genotypes within a population.

    It seems, that for one of my university assignments, I have been asked to write an essay examining what responsibilities engineers have in society, why must they be adhered to, and how? (meh...don't ask). It occurred to me almost immediately to divide the responsibilities up into categories, and examine each in detail. Two of the said categories I came up with were professional responsibilities, and ethical responsibilities. I quickly realised that the two groups were not at all mutually exclusive. In fact, almost every case of deliberate neglect of one's professional responsibilities that I could think of constituted an unethical action (by any reasonable definition?). Based on that, I wondered whether the role of ethics in society and the social sciences could be considered analogous to the role of mathematics in the natural sciences. That is: can ethics be regarded as a philosophical framework that permits the development and maintenance of ordered and complex societies? This would be analogous to math being essential to the development of self-consistent and experimentally testable scientific theories. I realise that the analogy is flawed in many ways. For one thing: a particular ethical system can hardly be regarded as well-defined, consistent, or univerally applicable!! Morality is alarmingly subjective. Nevertheless, I am wondering what opinions the minds at physics forums have of this "insight?"
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  3. Oct 27, 2004 #2


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    Sounds like you haven't taken an engineering ethics class yet, but you're coming to the right conclusions about it on your own.

    The logical leap you took from there is a big one though, that most people don't share. I, however, do. The reason for that is that to those in engineering, ethics has much more tangeable consequences than it does for others. I'll expand on this idea if you want me to, but so far you're doing a good job developing it on your own. Specifically, the last argument you made (2nd and 3rd to last sentences). Think about that one some more in light of what I just said about engineering ethics...
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2004
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