Public Obligation and the Ethics System

by William H. Wisely, (Hon.M.ASCE), Visiting Scholar; Univ. of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va. and Executive Director Emeritus, ASCE,

Serial Information: Issues in Engineering: Journal of Professional Activities, 1979, Vol. 105, Issue 3, Pg. 131-135

Document Type: Journal Paper


Concern for the public interest is the essence of professionalism, yet systems of professional ethics are just beginning to emphasize the moral values and altruism that are inherent to that principle. This trend is long overdue, but prevailing ethical standards still contain many detailed rules of professional/business etiquette, which divert emphasis from the public obligation fundamental, and also add an undesirable legalistic dimension. A new concept of professional ethics is proposed, based upon the Professional Ethic: The Engineer shall apply specialized knowledge and skill at all times in the public interest with honesty, integrity and honor. This declaration is sufficient in itself to support an ethics system offering many advantages in the educational, administrative, and enforcement functions provided by the professional society. The Professional Ethic is particularly amenable to enforcement without the legalistic complication and atmosphere that characterize present professional conduct procedures. All items of professional/business etiquette would be detailed in a set of Rules of Professional Practice.

Subject Headings: Ethics | Legal affairs | Professional societies | Public opinions | Professional development

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