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Philosophy, Technology Assessment

and Ethics for Civil Engineering

Learning unit 6: Technological risks

General format

Learning unit 7: Responsibility

The exam will consist of 25 multiple choice questions (6

points) and 1 open question with subquestions (4 points):
10 questions about TA module
15 questions about philosophy/ethics
Open question (4 points):
defend or attack a given proposition (in the format as
explained below); or
apply ethical theory to a given case
(allowed to answer in English or Dutch)

Spring 2014
Central terms: hazard, risk, uncertainty, ignorance
Difference between risk analysis & risk management
Ways to improve the safety of a design
Ethical theories & risk evaluation
Criteria for deciding on the acceptability of risks
Risk fallacies
Ways for dealing with uncertainty
Precautionary principle
Engineering as social experiment

Question hour: Learning Units 5-8 + exam

Dr.ir. Neelke Doorn

Dr.ir. Udo Pesch
Department Philosophy and Ethics of Technology (TPM)

Criteria for individual responsibility

Moral responsibility vs legal responsibility
Responsibility in organizations


Learning unit 5: Normative ethics

assess actions on the basis of consequences

Deontological ethics

Sample exam question

Learning unit 8: Sustainability

Question types

Which of the following terms describes an approach for

improving the safety of a design:

Basic terminology
Justification of sustainable development
Principles for sustainable development:
Stand-still principle
Polluter pays principle
Precautionary principle
Relation to (engineering) design

Theory and concepts

One right answer
Application of theory and concepts
Usually (but not always) one best answer
Judged on basis of argumentation (not on the basis
of the opinion itself)


assess actions on the basis of accordance with principle

Virtue ethics
Assess character, not actions

Care ethics

Risk communication.
Cost-benefit analysis.
Safety factor approach.
Informed consent.

Assess relations, not actions


1. Theory and concepts

Concepts/theory: possible types of


Application of theories and concepts;

types of questions

True/false? (contd)

No need to literally know definitions

Try to capture:
Core ideas
Relations between concepts

Multiple choice

Multiple choice
Short case description and application of:
One concept/theory
Various ones, often contrasting
E.g. application of various ethical theories to

4. There will be a new financial crisis in 2016 is a

descriptive statement.

Open questions (but primarily by way of application)

5. The conclusion of a logically valid argument is always

6. According to Kant, the moral worth of an action
cannot be defined by its consequences.
7. Virtue ethics focuses on the rights of people.



Relations between concepts

2. Application of theories and


What type of concept

E.g. ethical theories
E.g. models for allocating responsibility
Similarities and differences
E.g. consequentialism versus deontology
E.g. legal responsibility versus moral responsibility

You need to show that you understand the concept


According to Kant, actions should be judged on the basis of their

II. According to Aristotle, virtues are the point of departure for analyzing
moral cases.
III. Kant and Mill agree that all moral principles are universally valid.

1. In an inductive argument a general conclusion is

drawn from a limited number of cases.
2. Technocracy is the idea of governance of society on
the basis of policies based on technical and scientific

Which of the statements is true?

a) (I) and (II) are true.
b) (I) and (III) are true.
c) (II) and (III) are true.
d) (II) is true.

3. The deductive-nomologic (DN) model for explanation

is symmetric with respect to explanation and

Important to practice!



Read the statements (I), (II), and (III).


You need to show ability to:

Recognize salient features of the case
To relate these to theoretical concept




3. Discussion and argumentation

Can be either a proposition or a case
Not judged on your opinion
But on you argumentation

How to trace relevant arguments?

Example 1

Some may be given in question or case description

Do you agree with the following proposition:

Instead of teachers, students should correct each
others exams.

Theoretical positions (e.g. different ethical theories)

What are possible arguments of relevant stakeholders?

Note: this example is shown to illustrate the format of the question.

Content-wise, this is not a realistic proposition for this course. A more
realistic proposition is: Technology is value-neutral and is in itself


Criteria for good argumentation


How to deal with contra arguments

Clear position statement (not necessarily bold!)

Arguments are formulated in a concise and precise way
Arguments support your position
It is explicitly indicated how the arguments support the
Relevant considerations and arguments are taken into
Do not neglect possible contra arguments

Do not neglect them!

Strategies to deal with them:

Reject them (argue why!)
Valid but less weighty than other arguments argue
Valid as limitations on your conclusion

Example 2

(1: pro): If students know that they get the task of

correcting each others exams, they will prepare more
effectively for the exam because they take the
correctors perspective.
(2: pro): It provides the student an additional learning
opportunity, viz. to learn from each others mistakes.
(3: con): It may lead to an unfair grade because students
will probably tend to grade the exams of friends higher
than exams of the students they dont like.

Bay Area Rapid Transport Project: In March 1972 Holger

Hsortsvang, Max Blakenzee, and Robert Bruder, three
engineers, working on the Bay Area Rapid Transport
Project (BART) in California (United States) and
responsible for the design and creation of an automatic
guided train system, were dismissed. These engineers
had been expressing their doubts about the safety of the
system via internal memos since 1969 to their managers.
The response was don't make trouble.



Example 2 (contd)

Example 2 (contd)

What would you advise Holger Hsortsvang, Max

Blakenzee and Robert Bruder to do after the response by
the managers? Apply two out of the following three
ethical theories (deontological ethics, consequentialist
ethics, and virtue ethics) to decide how to act. If the two
theories come to different answers explain why you think
the outcome of one theory should prevail over the
outcome of the other [100-150 words in total].

Deontology: dont go public (to be defended, e.g., first

formulation of categorical imperative; you cannot
make it a universal rule that engineers ignore the
managers decisions) weak argument
Consequentialism: go public (to be defended, e.g., via
greatest happiness of greatest number; saving the
general public from unsafe products will be more
important than the personal loss of their jobs)
Conclusion: explain which of the two is decisive and
provide a clear conclusion (+ elaboration).




Digital assessment

Exam is administered digitally.

The MC questions and open questions are split into
two separate exams.
After submission, you cannot access the exam again.
Know your netid + password



Example 2 (contd)


Example 1 (contd)



(Conclusion): Although I have provided two arguments

pro and just one con, I think the argument against the
proposition is decisive. The pedagogical objective of
letting students correct the exams themselves can be
achieved in other ways as well. Fairness in the
examination process is extremely important and the
responsibility of correcting and grading should therefore
remain with the teacher.

not good or bad.

Any reasonable argument you can think of


Example 1 (contd)

Additional hints


Read the instructions carefully!

Use the pre-structured argumentation scheme.
Try to formulate your arguments as concise and precise
as possible. Redundancy and vagueness do not
contribute to a higher grade and may even lead to a
subtraction of points.
Explain how your conclusion follows from the arguments.

Deontology: go public (to be defended, e.g., first

formulation of categorical imperative; you cannot
make it a universal rule that engineers ignore the
safety of their design)
Consequentialism: go public (to be defended, e.g., via
greatest happiness of greatest number; saving the
general public from unsafe products will be more
important than the personal loss of their jobs)
Conclusion: go public (+ elaboration)








Anthropocentrism The philosophical view that the environment has only instrumental value, that is, only value
for humans and not in itself.
Biocentrism The viewpoint that the environment has intrinsic value (value of its own).
Sustainable development Dvelopment that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of
future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtland definition).
Intergenerational justice Justice that relates to the just distribution of resources between different generations.
Intragenerational justice Justice that relates to the just distribution of resources within a generation.
Property right The right to ownership of a specific matter or resource like money, land, or an environmental
resource (like clean air).
Polluter pays principle The principle that damage to the environment must be repaired by the party responsible
for the damage.
Stand still principle The principle that we must not pass on a poorer environment to the next generation than the
one we received from the previous generation.
Environmental space The (maximum) amount of use of renewable and non-renewable resources that does not
exceed the boundaries of what the environment can take.
Carrying capacity The amount of damage that can be done to the environment without that damage being
Engineers and Sustainability- Various technical measures can be taken to satisfy this responsibility for the
environment. These measures can be categorized according to level and type.
The levels are as follows:
a. Product level;
b. Process level;
c. Business level.
The types are as follows:
1 Cleaning up pollution;
2 Processing of waste flows (end of pipe);
3 Preventing waste flows.
Life phases The phases through which a product goes during its life: production phase, use phase, and
removal phase.
Life cycle analysis An analysis that maps the environmental impact of a product across the entire cycle of
production, use, and disposal.
With respect to operationalization, the following more specific principles to attain sustainable development have
been proposed:
1 The stand still principle, which states that we must not pass on a poorer environment to the next generation
than the one we received from the previous generation. A crucial question here is what we mean by poorer and
whether we can compensate a degradation in one respect by an improvement in another.
2 The notion of environmental space, which is based on a scientific determination of the carrying capacity of the
environment that should not be transgressed. We have seen that determining the carrying capacity involves
normative choices and cannot be left to scientists and engineers. Otherwise it will result in technocracy (see
Section 1.5.2).
3 The precautionary principle, which states that scientific disagreement about environmental effects should not be
a reason to postpone measures against possible irreducible adverse effects, especially if those measures are
cost-effective. A possible objection to this principle is that it may well forbid too many developments.

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