Situating Moral Agency: How hostphenomenology can benefit engineering ethics

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Department of Humanities


This article identifies limitations in traditional approaches to engineering ethics pedagogy, reflected in an overreliance on disaster case studies. Researchers in the field have pointed out that these approaches tend to occlude ethically significant aspects of day-to-day engineering practice and thus reductively individualize and decontextualize ethical decision-making. Some have proposed, as a remedy for these defects, the use of research and theory from Science and Technology Studies (STS) to enrich our understanding of the ways in which technology and engineering practice are intricated in social and institutional contexts. While endorsing this approach, this article also argues that STS scholarship may not sufficiently address the kinds of questions about normativity and agency that are essential to engineering ethics. It proposes making use of the growing body of research in a field called "postphenomenology," an approach that combines STS research with the traditional phenomenological concern with the standpoint of lived-experience. Postphenomenology offers a method of inquiry that combines STS's investigation into social and institutional dimensions of technology with phenomenological reflection on our lived experience of embodied engagement with technical objects and sociotechnical systems, particularly the ways in which these involvements affect our moral perception and agency. The aim in using this approach in engineering ethics is thus to illuminate moral dimensions of everyday professional life of which practitioners may not typically be aware. The article concludes with some concrete curricular interventions for engineering ethics classrooms.

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Science and Engineering Ethics