Philosophy 210B – Engineering and Computer Science Ethics

Fall 2015

Instructor: Dr. Jeffrey Koperski

Office: Brown 315



(989) 964-7251


Description: This course will introduce basic issues in engineering and computer ethics, especially those problems engineers, computer scientists, and IT professionals face in a corporate setting.  The course has four parts.  Part 1 is an introduction including two case studies.  Part 2 examines the major normative ethical theories based on the notions of duties, rights, consequences, and virtue.  Part 3 is a broad survey of the professional’s obligations to society, employer, and client.  Part 4 examines the special problems of intellectual property rights, privacy, and computer technologies. 

Objectives:  Students should be able to identify various ethical problems commonly faced by engineers and computer professionals.  This identification should include the ability to clearly present the justification behind the student’s own views about the issues and case studies.  In order to do this effectively, the student should be able to use the conceptual tools found in modern philosophical ethics (see Parts 2 and 3 in the Description).  Moreover, students should develop a sufficient “eye” for the problems involved that they can see them in advance of a real-world crisis, rather than merely react to one.  Ultimately, the goal is for students to see themselves as moral agents with a special responsibility to uphold the ethical standards in their profession.

Text: Deborah G. Johnson, Computer Ethics 4th ed (2009).  Other readings are online or on Canvas.



15% Exam 1

15% Exam 3

10% In-Class Assignments


15% Paper

20% Final

10% Class Presentation


15% Exam 2




Paper topics and format will be given later in the semester.  See Paper Grades ( for more on my grading criteria.  Most papers will require access to the journal Science and Engineering Ethics.  All papers must be submitted to for the detection of plagiarism.  All submitted papers will be included as source documents in the reference database solely for the purpose of detecting plagiarism of such papers.  Use of the service is subject to the terms of use posted on the site.  Papers not submitted to this service will not be graded. 
Class presentations will begin halfway through the semester.  The presentation is to be a 10-15 minute critical analysis of a case study not covered in class from this list (

  In-class assignments include short essay questions as well as pop quizzes on the assigned reading material or the previous lecture.  There are no make-ups for in-class assignments.

Grades will be assigned on the following scale:


92-100   A

78-79     C+


90-91     A-

70-77     C


88-89     B+

61-69     D


82-87     B

60        F


80-81     B-



Final grades will never be lower than those prescribed above as long as all work has been submitted.  There is no curve for individual assignments, but a curve on cumulative course grades is possible.  Late work will be penalized by one letter grade per calendar day.  There are no extra credit assignments available for this course.



Course Schedule

I. Introduction

A. Case Studies

1.     Boisjoly, “The Challenger Disaster” {Canvas}

2.     Parnas, “SDI: A Violation of Professional Responsibility” {Canvas}

B. Course overview CE Chapter 1

In class: Gilbane Gold Case  

II. Philosophical Ethics

A. Normative Ethical Theories

1.     Relativism CE 24-35

2.     Utilitarianism CE 35-42

Exam 1

3.     Kantianism CE 42-45

4.     Rights Theory CE 46-48

5.     Virtue Theory CE 48-51

B. NSPE Code of Ethics (link)

III. Professional Ethics

A. Attributes of a Profession CE 162-176

Exam 2

B. James, “Whistle-Blowing” {Canvas}

C. Macpherson, “Safety, Risk Acceptability, and Morality” {Canvas}

D. Johnson, “The Social and Professional Responsibility of Engineers” {Canvas}

1. Military Ethics (link, section 2 only)

E. Conflicts of Interest {Canvas}

F. Kaikati, “The Phenomenon of International Bribery” {Canvas}

G. Baron, “The Moral Status of Loyalty” {Canvas}

Exam 3

IV. Ethics and Technology

A. Intellectual Property, CE Chapter 5

B. Privacy CE 81-100

1. Freedom of Expression and Censorship CE 156-161

Final Exam


Slides available on Canvas