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Q: Explain the different between prudent, or proffessional or moral thing to do? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Explain the different between prudent, or proffessional or moral thing to do?
Category: Relationships and Society > Law
Asked by: bren-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 30 Jul 2002 04:44 PDT
Expires: 29 Aug 2002 04:44 PDT
Question ID: 46811
My company is trying to develop the next generation of a "stealth"
device. I have a problem with this. I am  trying to understand how to
explain my feeling and still do a  professional job. I am trying to
decise if I should quite or stay on the job.  that I am having trouble
doing because of The Code of Professional Ehics for engineers.
Subject: Re: Explain the different between prudent, or proffessional or moral thing to do?
Answered By: j_philipp-ga on 30 Jul 2002 06:13 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello Bren,

There are certain question to which there is no good answer except
within yourself, and those are moral ones. I cannot argue on wether
helping develop the device in question is moral or not -- but it seems
you've made up your mind it is not, so I will try to give you ideas
how to deal with such a case.

It appears to be a no-win situation: "Either (...) out of business or
in bad conscience." [1]

A common argument is: "if I don't do it, somebody else will".
Furthermore, one could add: "and then I completely gave up influencing
this in a positive way." If you don't help developing what will be
developed anyway, you didn't make a change -- unless you're the only
one in the world capable of managing to do it. But is this argument

SN2 - Moral Dilemmas
"The better you are at what you do, the more effect you may have. If
you don't care, or think the consequences are trivial, you're entitled
to that. If you figure, like the song says, "If I don't do it,
somebody else will," that's your decision too. But when it comes to
doing something you know to be wrong, by saying "I don't have a
choice," you've just made one."

Whatever you decide to do, it will be an active choice, and yours
alone. You might tell yourself there was no other way, but you know
better. And you will have to live with the consequences of what you do
now for the rest of your life. If you have a family to support, and
you don't see a possibility of finding a new job, you also have to
live with the consequences. But while you will learn to rationalize
your past decision by being objective about the effect it has, even if
nobody else ever tells you what you did was wrong, you will always
remind yourself.

If you decide you are ready to quit for your believes in this, it is a
start. You then can discuss this professionally and possibly be
offered alternatives. Yes, and truthfully explain your feelings. There
is even the small chance your feedback will change the ways of the
company. But you should not take this discussion back to your company
without being clear about the consequences you are willing to take if
there is no change of plans, and if there are no alternatives offered
to you. If you will use "The Code of Professional Ethics" to back up
your position, that's OK too -- but it's still your choice.
What can help you making up your mind?

Here is "A Guide to Moral Decision Making" (which is an aid, "not a
A. Recognizing the Moral Dimension
B. Who Are the Interested Parties? What are their relationships?
C. What Values are Involved?
D. Weigh the Benefits and the Burdens
E. Look for Analogous Cases
F. Discuss with Relevant Others
G. Does this Decision Accord with Legal and Organizational Rules?
H. Am I Comfortable with this Decision?

So you might discuss the dilemma you are facing with partner, family,
and friends.
And you may want to take a look at history to resolve the issue: - In the Shadow of the Bomb: Bethe, Oppenheimer, and the
Moral Responsibility of the Scientist (by Silvan S. Schweber)

What is the Responsibility of Scientists in War?
"Oppenheimer's defence was that he was acting as a scientist and not
as a politician (or military person). And scientists only suggest how
a bomb can be made and dropped effectively not whether a bomb ought to
be made or dropped. This really amounts to the claim that "I was only
following orders" -- precisely the defence, ironically enough, that
the German scientists gave at the Nuremberg Trials. Oppenheimer's
"defence" is very weak because it implies that scientists really have
no ethical/social responsibility other than "follow orders.""

I hope this helps.

[1] Quoted Wilfred J. Hahn at [PDF]:

Search terms:
    "if I don't do it, somebody else will"
    oppenheimer moral
    "the code of professional ethics"
    "the code of professional ethics" engineer

Request for Answer Clarification by bren-ga on 11 Aug 2002 03:51 PDT
I understand that there is no correct answer. If you had to defense it
from the postion of an employee of a electronics manufacturing
company. The employee's boss has told him he must do it. The employee
has tried to give the assigment to someone else, and his boss told him
he had to do it.
What should the employee do? Can this be explained from a Kantian
point of view.
What would be the prudent thing to do? 
What is the proffesssional thing to do
What is the moral thing to do?

I have tried arguing this case with myself I can't complete it so
would you Help from your stand points maybe I can get a new idea.

Clarification of Answer by j_philipp-ga on 12 Aug 2002 07:39 PDT
Hello Bren,

To get a clearer view on the subject, please consider the following

    "Wise in handling practical matters"
    but also "Careful in regard to one's
    own interests".

    "conforming to the rules or standards of
    a profession".

    "Conforming to standards of what is right
    or just in behavior; virtuous".

In short, there is a potential conflict of three interests at hand;
- The prudent one: should the person in question act in his own
- The professional one: should the person act in the interest of the
profession, i.e. the company?
- the moral one: should the person act in the interest of morals?

Could some of these conflicts be resolved, that is; could some of
these interests be combined to a common one, or are they always

Taking your example, we might start off by saying that the "stealth"
device would morally right. In that case, the prudent, professional
and moral conflict would not exist, because helping to build this
device would be in everyone's interest.

But we may have to assume the situation is more complicated, and thus
we face the dilemma: building the stealth device would be immoral,
when concerned with humanity at large. Then, already we not only face
the dilemma of the three basic interests, but we also have to decide
on the two of them that are left over:

- What is prudent in this case? Could helping to build this back-fire
in some way, because it's not according to the Code of Professional
Ethics for engineers?

- What is professional in this case? Is just following orders always
professional, or should one decide based upon the interests of the
profession, and again, according to the Code of Professional Ethics
for engineers?

Let me quote the following paper:

The Generalized Structure of Ethical Dilemmas (by Kelley L. Ross,

"If doing what is right produces something bad, or if doing what is
wrong produces something good, the force of moral obligation may seem
balanced by the reality of the good end. We can have the satisfaction
of being right, regardless of the damage done; or we can aim for what
seems to be the best outcome, regardless of what wrongs must be

And for further reading on Kant's philosophy, I suggest this overview:
Kant and Post-Kantian Ethics (middle of the page)

I hope that clarifies the issue and helps you to distinguish between
what's prudent, professional, and moral in this case!

Search terms:
    kant prudent professional moral
    "moral philosophy of kant"
bren-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
great Sorry it took so long Been in hospital

Subject: Re: Explain the different between prudent, or proffessional or moral thing to do?
From: writer32-ga on 29 Aug 2002 08:23 PDT
There is question "Do automobile radar detectors increase traffic
accidents and deaths" that was asked on 28 August 2002. Whoever reads
this may want to go to that question, read the responses, and add to
them. (The question ID is 59564.)

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