Professional Societies, Microethics, and Macroethics: Product Liability as an Ethical Issue in Engineering Design

Joseph R. Herkert
Division of Multidisciplinary Studies, North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7107, USA

Professional engineering societies impact the process of engineering design through their role in promoting engineering ethics (among other activities); professional societies also participate in debates over public policy issues regarding the development and use of technology, such as the ongoing debate over product liability reform. Product liability, a key concern to engineering designers, professional societies, and policy makers alike, is an important case study of whether professional engineering societies are successful in bridging microethical and macroethical concerns. Ethical issues include the role of product liability litigation in creating an environment wherein managers take seriously the views of engineers with safety concerns, and the relative standard of care expected of designers and users of products. While professional engineering societies favor substantial changes in the product liability system, there is little evidence that they have considered the effect that decreasing the impact of product liability would have on engineering ethics. The apparent disconnect between the posture of the professional engineering societies on product liability and their concern for protection of public health, safety, and welfare as stated in their codes of ethics undercuts the ability of the professional engineering societies to constructively contribute to a discussion of the social and ethical dimensions of engineering design.


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