"Ethical Responsibilities of Engineers in Large Organizations: The Pinto Case" Richard T. De George

 

What is the design problem associated with the infamous Ford Pinto?

What did Ford do when it was alerted by various engineers about this problem?

De George argues that Ford was in fact negligent. What are his reasons? Do you think De George is right about this?

Were engineers responsible for the Pinto debacle? How does De George answer the question?

"Engineers in large firms have an ethical responsibility to do their jobs as best they can, to report their observations about safety and improvement of safety to management. But they do not have the obligation to insist that their perceptions or their standards be accepted. They are not paid to do that, they are not expected to do that, and they have no moral or ethical obligation to do that." (179)

 

De George's principle about morally permissible whistle blowing:

Engineers are morally PERMITTED to go public with information about the safety of a product if the following conditions are met:

  1. the harm that will be done by the product to the public is serious and considerable;
  2. they make their concerns known to their superiors; and
  3. getting no satisfaction from their immediate superiors, they exhaust the channels available within the corporation, including going to the board of directors.

 

De George's principle about morally obligatory whistle blowing:

Engineers are morally OBLIGATED to go public with information about the safety of a product if the following conditions are met:

  1. the harm that will be done by the product to the public is serious and considerable;
  2. they make their concerns known to their superiors;
  3. getting no satisfaction from their immediate superiors, they exhaust the channels available within the corporation, including going to the board of directors;
  4. the engineer has documented evidence that would convince a reasonable, impartial observer that his view of the situation is correct and that the company policy is wrong; and
  5. there must be strong evidence that making the information public will in fact prevent the threatened serious harm.

"If a corporation wishes to be moral or if society or engineers wish to apply pressure for organizational changes such that the corporation acts morally and responds to the moral conscience of engineers and others within the organization, then changes must be made. Unless those at the top set a moral tone, unless they insist on moral conduct, unless they punish immoral conduct and reward moral conduct, the corporation will function without considering the morality of questions and of corporate actions. It may by accident rather than by intent avoid immoral actions, though in the long run this is unlikely." (184)