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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

A Virtue Approach to Engineering

Rafael Guerrero

An important consideration in deciding the team you want to have is deciding what kind of team member you want to be. One of the oldest approaches in applied ethics is the “Virtue Approach”, which asks decision makers to operate on behaviors and choices that best align with the image they want to have for themselves. Questions like “what kind of person will I become if I do this?” or “is this action consistent with my acting at my best?” prompt decision makers to put self-accountability at the forefront in making choices, as well as adhering to a joint effort such as a team. A more detailed explanation of the Virtue Approach and the philosophy behind it is expressed in “Ethics and Virtue” (Velasquez et. al, 1988) [1].

The Frugal Clay Press for Nicaragua 2018 design team

The Frugal Clay Press for Nicaragua 2018 design team


In the context of senior design, application of virtue ethics is an important first step in preparing oneself to participate in a design team. Whether or not you begin your search by choosing team members to find a project with, or by selecting a project to build a team around, the senior design project is going to be an intensive year-long commitment that asks you to collaborate with other engineers-- each with different work habits, learning styles, and so forth. Taking steps to understand your person attributes, areas of improvement, and personal virtues as an engineer preparing to work beyond graduation are equally as important as the final product in the senior design experience.

Understanding how your personal virtues and those of other engineers factor into conscientious design thinking comes with the following considerations:

  • What social causes in your community and in other parts of the world do your values particularly align with? How is technology currently used to advance this cause?
  • What kinds of projects do you wish to take part in? Are they developed for a first world application? Are they humanitarian focused?
  • Does the project that you wish to take on develop your skills and knowledge in a field that you would like to specialize or conduct further research in?
  • What areas of technology are you not interested in working in, or feel particularly opposed to? Are there technological causes that you disagree with, or deem as particularly “unethical”?


[1] Velasquez, Manuel, et al. “Ethics and Virtue.” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, 1 Jan. 1988.

Jun 29, 2018