Engineers Ethics to Engineering Ethics; a Decade in Japan






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Chiba Institute of Technology 2-17-1 Tsudanuma, Narashino-shi

275-0016, Japan +81-47-478-0344


The introductory period of Japanese engineering ethics education was briefly reviewed, and Japanese engineers attitude and its effect on engineering ethics was discussed , comparing those in the United States. Then, based on the survey of published textbooks and syllabus for engineering ethics course in Japan, the elements in the engineering ethics were extracted, and approaching directions depending on who and to whom teaches was analyzed. Various approaches should be determined, depending on the students‟ specialty, interest, and grade. However, consideration for the side effects of technology would be most important. Social context of the engineering, in other words, aim of the application of each technology, should be focused in engineering ethics. Of course, to be an ethical engineer is desirable, but ethical technology is essential. In that sense, it is also essential to educate ordinal non-engineering people to what is ethical technology/engineering.


Engineering ethics, Engineering Education, Syllabus, Design, Compliance, Japanese engineer, STS



In the past decade, most engineering departments in Japanese universities and technical colleges have introduced engineering/engineer‟s ethics into their curriculum. There are two main reasons for the introduction and rapid spread of engineering ethics. The first is the collapse of reputation in “safety legends in Japanese engineering products” in mid 1990s. Japanese engineers used be regarded as highly trust-worthy people and engines for the economic success of Japan. However various technological accidents or disasters destroyed the trust in engineers. For example, molten sodium used in fast reactor “Monju” was leaked because of primitive and incorrect miss-design and important information on that accident was not disclosed. The 1990s also witnessed the recruiting of highly educated scientists with advanced knowledge by a cult group involved in terrorism.

The earthquake in 1995 destroyed highway bridges, although engineers had insisted that they would never collapse. As a result of such technological accident, Japanese engineers lost their prestige. therefore, it became necessary to rebuild their credibility. Second, the Japan Accreditation Board for Engineering Education (JABEE; established in 1999) introduced engineering ethics into programme in order to exchange international mutual recognition with accreditation agencies abroad. JABEE has defined engineering ethics as an “understanding of the effects and impact of engineering on society and nature” as one of the seven items in its learning and educational objectives criteria for accreditation [6]. In this paper, the trends in Japanese engineering ethics education are reviewed on the basis of curriculum that are publicly available on web-site and in published textbook.

In addition to the engineering ethics, various courses have been offers, such as Engineers Ethics, Ethics in Engineering, Legal and Ethical Issues in Engineering or Ethics of Techno-scientist, which deal with similar subjects. In this paper, the term “Engineering Ethics” is used to represent these educational activities in a broad sense.


2.1 Starting Engineering Ethics Courses in


According to a survey by conducted by Shirabe [10] in 2003, more than 70% of civil and electronic engineering departments had introducing or been preparing to introduce the engineering ethics course. The engineering ethics education in Japan had been started by introducing that in US. The first Japanese textbook of Engineering Ethics was a translation of Harris et al.‟s textbook in 1998[3]. More than five American textbooks on Engineering Ethics were translated in three years.

The Institution of Professional Engineers, Japan contributed a lot towards the introduction of engineering ethics in Japan. Many engineering societies established a code of ethics or ethical committees around 2000, as listed in Table 1. Note that Japan Society of Civil Engineers framed the principles and code of practice in 1938, in which the ethics was included as one of the components.

WEE2011, September 27-30, 2011, Lisbon, Portugal. Editors: Jorge Bernardino and José Carlos Quadrado.


161 Table 1 Establishment of an ethical code and committee in

Japanese major engineering societies Engineers Society Code Committee The Institute of Professional Engineers, Japan 1961 1961 Information Processing Society of Japan 1996

The Institute of Electrical Engineers of Japan 1998

Architectural Institute of Japan 1999 2004 The Japan Society of M echanical Engineers 1999 2000 Japan Society for Civil Engineers 1999 1999 Japan Society for Engineering Educations 1999 The Chemical Society of Japan 2000

Atomic Energy Society of Japan 2001 2001 The Society of Chemical Engineers, Japan 2002 2002 The Japan Society for Precision Engineering 2003

The Japanese industry is keen on ethical issue as well. According to a survey conducted by Kurata in 2003[7], 76.7% of 133 firms had established code of ethics or conduct and 31.6% had introduced ethical education as their employee‟s training program.

2.2. Japanese Engineers Ethics

As mentioned above, Japanese engineering ethics education was started through the introduction of American engineering ethics, which aimed to promote the social status of engineers through the good practices of individual engineer. When the term „engineering ethic‟ was introduced in Japan, it was translated to „engineer‟s ethics‟ in Japanese. It is quite understandable how the Japanese considered it to mean ethics of engineer instead of those of engineering.

However, the attitude of Japanese engineers is quite different from that of American engineers. Most Japanese engineers are working in and subject to the standards of private corporations or public organizations, and have strong loyalty to them. They are introduced by the company‟s name or their position in the company, not by their name. Furthermore, they work very cooperatively as a team member. In general they have strong confidence as experts but little conscious as professionals and contractors in society. They are thought to be highly reliable individuals but may not be treated well in an economic and social sense. Most Japanese politicians and executives in big firms are not engineers, though there have been several successful engineers such as Soichiro Honda of Honda Motor Co., Ltd. or Masaru Ibuka of SONY Corporation.

The Institution of Professional Engineers and many other engineering societies in Japan have established a code of ethics, as previously mentioned. Although their names in English are engineer‟s societies, they are actually academic societies rather than professional societies. The most Japanese engineers belong to private firms. As a result, they cannot act individually and be an independent professional, which is a fundamental concept in American engineering ethics. Individual engineer‟s ethics, in other words micro-level engineering ethics, do not always work effectively for all Japanese engineers.

The responsibility of engineers toward their profession is said to be a very special and unique one, because of the growing influence of engineering practice and products on society. This special responsibility is often derived from the social-contract model, and is emphasized so that individual engineer should take it seriously. In the textbooks, the story about R. Boisjoly of the space shuttle “Challenger” explosion or W.L. Messurier of City Coop Tower is often referred to as a good example of ethical

individual engineers. Such heroic engineers, however, are not as common in Japan.

Some private firms are eager to introduce ethics education into their employees training program, but these programs are mostly limited to the micro-level and focus on compliance. Thus, the macro- and meta-levels are left to education in universities. On the other hand, Japanese university students have very limited experience in engineering practices and have little ability to image up the realty of the job that engineers encounter. Therefore, the possibility of educating ethical engineer in Japanese university was widely discussed. The author himself has previously argued that ethical education of the client or customer would have been much more effective [9].

As discussed in this section, the American model of an individual ethical engineer is not always fit into the professional profile of Japanese engineers. Thus, engineering ethics has not been well systemized yet, and is just an accumulation of related topics. Under these circumstances, what should be taught to establish engineering ethics? How do we teach? Or who is the most suitable teacher? The searching for another approach to engineering ethics education has started.





Key Elements and Directional Approaches

Since the textbook by Harris[3] was translated into Japanese in 1998, numerous textbooks have been published in Japan. Ishihara [5], and Fujiki and Sugihara [2] published excellent reviews on the textbooks. According to Ishihara‟s survey on major textbooks published up to 2002, he pointed out the necessity of Japanese case studies, applying risk communication studies and clarifying the relationship between business ethics and engineering ethics. Fujiki and Sugihara surveyed 81 books published by August, 2010 and discussed the standpoint of each authors toward the difference between engineers in Japan and the United States, and emphasized the necessity of further discussion on the social status and responsibility of engineers.

In this study, to review the recent extent of engineering ethics in Japan, key and general elements in about 40 textbooks were extracted and categorized. These elements do not appear in all books but are commonly found in many of them. The extracted elements cover all engineering ethics in Japan.

The key elements were mapped, as shown in Figure 1. They were positioned according to two axes: individual-institutional and idealistic-practical; however their positions are not based on quantitative but qualitative evaluation. The individual-institutional axis can be said to be micro-macro.


162 Moral Theory Research Ethics

Ideal Practical Code of Ethics Individual Organizational, Institutional Professional Ethics Prevention Engineering Safety Design Engineering History Science History Communication Accountability

Social context Corporate Ethics CSR Whistle Blowing Managerial Engineering QC, PC, Labour Safety Applied Ethics Environmental Ethics IT Ethics, Bio Ethics


Legal Regulation

Intellectual Property,

Product Liability, Technical Standard

Figure 1 Elements dealt in engineering ethics education in textbooks

The position of each element in Figure 1 reflects the target and background of the education, and the elements are classified by the four different directional approaches listed in Table 2.

Table 2 Directional approaches in engineering education

approaches elements

Traditional ethics,

Applied ethics(Environment, Information, Bio) Research ethics

Code of ethics/proctice of engineers society, Profesional ethics(Physician, Lawer, )

Whistle blowing

CSR, Coperate ethics, Business ethics

Product liability, Intellectual properties, Legal regulation, Technical standard

Prevention engineering, Safety design M anagerial engineering(QC, PC, Labor safety) Technology assessment

Interaction b/w science, techlonogy and society History of science and technology

Consumers' ethics Theoretical ethics




The theoretical ethics approach, including classical moral theory, focuses on establishing a rational action standard for each engineer who is facing conflicts. In some textbooks, classics in ethics, such as Aristoteles or Kant, are briefly introduced, while in some others, relatively deep discussions on philosophy and technology are provided. The negative effects of new technology are often discussed from the stand point of applied ethics.

The design approach emphasizes engineering practice that avoids mistakes and unintentional accidents, by developing each engineer‟s skill and consciousness. Hatamura [41] proposed new methodologies for preventing accidents or failures on the basis of inter-disciplinary analysis. He and his co-workers have collected more than 100 cases to develop a data base [4], which became a good resource for the case study of this approach.

The compliance approach focuses on studying regulation rules and technical standards which each engineer should know well. Product liability, intellectual property, and quality control are the

major topics addressed under this approach. Business ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) are closely related to this approach.

The last one is the STS approach. STS is acronym of Science, Technology and Society, or Science and Technology Studies, and a trans-disciplinary approach for discussing the issues that science and technology brings in society. The history of technology and science is another major resource used in this approach.

3.2 Approaching Directions by Teachers

Next, the type of contents and approaches used by each instructor takes is analyzed by collecting and extracting key elements of the syllabus, which are available on various websites. Sixty six syllabus were analyzed in this work.

The frequency at which these key elements appear in the syllabus is shown in Figure 2. This figure only indicates rough tendencies, since the numbers were not strictly or subjectively counted. Safety design, business ethics, whistle blowing, intellectual properties and product liability were frequently found in the syllabus. The results indicate that the prevention engineering is widely adopted in Japanese engineering ethic courses.

In terms of the approaches discussed in the previous section, the design approach and compliance approach are employed most of the courses, while ethics approach and STS approach are offered in a limited number of courses.

0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 Moral Theory

Normal Action Social Contract Prof essional Ethics Moral Theory Environmantal Ethics Inf ormation Ethics Bio Ethics Resxearch Ethics Engineers Ethics Othres Environmant & Resources Issue Accident Risk Saf ety Quality managementi Engineers Duty Communicatoin Skil Regal Aspect Product Liability Intellectual Properties Quality/Production Management Corporate Ethics Whistle browing Conf lict in Enterprise Risk/Crisis manegenment Conf lict in Enterprise Code of Ethics Case Study STS History of Technology and …

Social Context Public Comunication


163 There are almost no specialists in engineering ethics education in

Japan. The teachers of these courses are classified into three groups. One is scholar of humanities, such as an ethicist or philosopher. Almost all of them are teachers in universities. The second is engineers in industry. They are mostly part-time instructors, who are invited from industry, or professors who have a long industrial experience. The last group is engineering scientists, teaching engineering at universities. Among 66 courses, 14 were identified as the humanities scholars, 17 as engineers in industry, and 25 as engineering scientists.

Figure 3 shows the relative composition of the four approaches by each teacher type. Again this figure does not illustrate statistically significant results, but only tendency.

0% 50% 100%

Humanities Scholars Engineers in Industry Engineering Scientists Total

Ethics & Applied Ethics Engineering Design Compliance STS

Figure 3 Preferred approaches by the teacher background

Industrial engineers and engineering scientist employed design and compliance approach whereas engineers in industry seem to have a preference for the compliance approach that might be because of importance in their daily practice.

Humanities scholars prefer theoretical ethics as it can be predicted easily and shows some affinity toward the STS approach. It is obvious that they are not experts in design practice. In the textbooks written by ethical scholars, classical ethical theories are almost always included, but as far as approaches found in the syllabus are concerned, even the ethicists do not spend much time teaching such classical theories. The discussion on the applied ethics for environmental, information or biological technologies may be useful to imply the ethical way of thinking.

Engineers in industry often engage in education, teaching practical engineering skills such as prevention technology or safety design. They are keen about the importance of legal aspects such as product liability, intellectual properties and safety standards. The author has a hypothesis, although it cannot be validated, that regulatory documents are well established and easy to include in educational materials in the compliance approach. At the same time, many of them emphasize individual effort. This may be because highly ethical engineers are hired as instructors of such courses. The number of engineers in industry who take the STS approach is quite small.

Professors of engineering are of course involved in engineering ethics and show a similar tendency as the engineers in industry in the choice of approach. They may feel more comfortable teaching innovative technology in prevention engineering rather than established regulation to insist on their originality. Some, however, seem to be embarrassed by the selection of teaching materials. The author has heard several of them saying that omnibus-type courses would be preferable, in which several teachers take part depending on their specialties and interests.

As far as the teaching method is concerned, group discussion has been introduced in about one third of the classes that were investigated. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has been encouraging the ability in discussion to promote the development of new technologies and business. Written report assignments, presentation based on group discussions and examinations are employed as the bases for evaluation. Group discussions, debates, presentations and writing assignments have been used as methods for introducing business skills. It is possible to assess the students‟ study performance, but quite difficult to assess the performance of the education over a long term. There is no clear evidence that there has been a drastic decrease in engineering accidents or miss-conduct among engineers. It is still too early to evaluate the effect of engineering ethics education.






As discussed above, various approaches have been taken towards engineering ethics education in Japanese universities. Since the need for engineering ethics education rose rapidly, ad hoc

response was required, when engineering ethics was introduced in Japan. The engineering ethics education was started by professionals who were available and interested, and they chose what they viewed as the best possible way in each course. Each approach and element is, of course, important, useful and meaningful. However, emphasis should be carefully placed on tailoring the elements and approaches, depending on student backgrounds, majors, grades, future plans and quality of work. Currently, there is no clear guideline for constructing an adequate study programme.

Consideration of the side effects of technology on society should be one of the most important elements. Communication between the general public and engineers should be developed to respond to the anxiety and lack of trust of the general public. According to the governmental survey in 2008, 69.6% of the Japanese public felt that progress in science and technology move was too fast to catch up with it [8]. In the social context of engineering, in other words, the aim of the application of each technology should be focused on engineering ethics. Of course, to be an ethical engineer is desirable, but ethical technology is essential. Therefore, it is important to educate non-engineering people on what is ethical technology/engineering. Ethical requirements imposed by society will make engineers and engineering more ethical. In that sense, engineering ethics education based on the STS approach for non-engineering people is another important task. An understanding ethics in engineering should be established and possessed by both engineers and ordinal public.

Engineers should learn about a society‟s cultural and ethical profile, economic situation, and historical background, and discuss the conflict that has been generated by technology and society, including how to solve them. These measures will shift


164 the focus of engineering ethics education from retroactive to


The desired aim of public education is not to promote an understanding of science, but to facilitate the discussion on what is desirable science and technology, and engineering. Ethical requirements from society will make engineer and engineering more ethical. To accomplish this, the concept of public engagement in science and technology policy, such as the Consensus Meeting or Science Café, has been introduced in some engineering ethics course in Japan. Answering the question “What kind of world we want to live in?” should be the ultimate goal of engineering ethics.



[1] Association for the Study of Failure,, May 22, 2011

[2] Fujiki,A. and Sugihara,K., On the transition of the textbooks of engineering ethics from 1998 to 2010 in Japan, Journal of Engineering Ethics, Vol.7, (2010),pp23-71

[3] Harris,C.E, Pritchard,M.S., Rabins,M.J. Engineering Ethics; Concept and Cases Ver.3. Wadsworth, 2008

[4] Hatamura,Y., “Structure and Expression of Failure Knowledge Databese”,, May 22, 2011 [5] Ishihara,K., A Survey of textbooks on engineering ethics,

Journal of Japanese Society for Science and Technology Studues,Vol.2,(2003) , pp138-148

[6] Japan Accreditation Board for Engineering Education, elor_2009.pdf, , May 22, 2011

[7] Kurata, N., Engieers ethics and corporate ethics, IEEJ Journal, Vol.124,(2004),pp638-641

[8] Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan, WHITE PAPER ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY 2004 dex.html, May 22, 2011

[9] Shibata. K. and Yagi, K., Is engineering ethics to develop super-engineers? Materia Japan, Vol.42,(2003), pp693-695 [10]Shirabe, M., Current status and future task in engineering

ethics education in university, IEEJ Journal, Vol.124,(2004),pp634-637





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