Ethics and responsibility

It is said about the engineers that they often get into trouble on ethical matters, not because they are not decent people, but because they fail to recognize that they might be dealing with an ethical issue. This raises a question: Can ethics be taught? Should the engineering students be exposed to a formal course on ethics? Is it feasible to introduce ethics course in the already burdened engineering curriculum?

Ignorance, doubt, and uncertainty are perquisites of scientific enquiry. As Richard Feyman says, “Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty– some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain.” We, thus, must recognize the lack of knowledge and leave room for doubt.

Feyman adds, “It is our responsibility as scientists, knowing the great progress and great value of a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, the great progress that is the fruit of freedom of thought, to proclaim the value of this freedom, to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed and discussed, and to demand this freedom as our duty to all coming generations.”

We must recognize disconnect between exclusivity of capability and responsibility. By accepting undue responsibility let us not make it a popularity contest. Often a person is assigned responsibilities disproportionate to his/her capabilities for various ‘unavoidable’ reasons. There is a need to be judgmental in assigning as well as accepting responsibilities. We need not always depend upon others to tell us what we have to do and what we can do. We should rely more on the self-assessment of our capabilities.