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Occidental Engineering Case Study: Part 8By Michael McFarland, S.J.
When we are faced with an ethical issue, whether it is in the evaluation of a case, the choice of a course of action, or the formulation of a policy, there are a number of questions that we need to examine:
Ethics is a practical science, as Aristotle pointed out. Its goal is action: a life well-lived. It is not enough to analyze a situation. One must come to a definite judgement on what ought to be done and then do it. Ethical analysis, therefore, should be directed toward judgement. That is not to say that there is one and only one right judgement in any situation or that there will never be legitimate disagreement. But there are good judgements and bad ones; and it is possible to tell the difference. Here are some of the qualities of a good ethical judgement:
Of course it is not always possible to satisfy all these requirements simultaneously. It may be necessary to make compromises, to prioritize the demands and satisfy as many of the most important ones as possible. It is in such tragic situations, where there are competing interests, that the bitterest disagreements and the most difficult choices occur. It may be necessary simply to make the best choice possible, even when it does some harm. But there is also an obligation to look for alternatives that avoid the conflict. This may mean fostering negotiation and cooperation to bring competing interests into line. It may mean developing new capabilities, human and technological, that more adequately meet the demands of the situation. Or it may mean restructuring relationships and institutions to remove some of the conflicts and constraints that make ethical action impossible.
Michael McFarland, S.J., was a visiting scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics in 20012. He is the former president of College of the Holy Cross and previously served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Gonzaga University and as an associate professor of computer science at Boston College.Return to Occidental Engineering Case Study
Michael McFarland, S.J., a computer scientist, is the former president of College of the Holy Cross and was a visiting scholar at the Ethics Center.