September was an active month for the SEFI SIG Ethics Community. At the annual conference…
Hidekazu Kanemitsu (Kanazawa Institute of Technology, Japan)
Accidents and accreditation
In Japan, engineering ethics education is widespread, and offered by many engineering academic and professional societies. Two important reasons are the internationalization of engineering education and the establishment of an accreditation system similar to other countries. Namely, the Japan Accreditation Board for Engineering Education (JABEE) was established in 1999. The board has specified the need for engineering ethics as one of the conditions for certification. It says that learning outcomes shall include ‘[an] ability of understanding of effects and impacts of professional activities to the society and to the nature of, and understanding of professionals’ social contributions and responsibilities’.
The need for engineering ethics arose after various accidents in Japan e.g., the Tokaimura nuclear accident (1999) and the cover-up of recalls by Mitsubishi Motors (2000, 2004). We cannot deny the influence of both the establishment of JABEE, and the criteria for engineering ethics being a part of it. For example, Sato and Harada surveyed the reactions of Japanese institutes to the criteria suggested (Sato and Harada, Survey results on JABEE. Journal of JSEE 53(3):101–112, 2005); 47.9% institutions started a new course in engineering ethics, 15.5% already had a corresponding course, and 12.7% modified the existing courses and started a new course. Therefore, 76.1% institutions now offer a course in engineering ethics in some form or the other. Japanese engineering ethics emerged not only from the needs within the country but also from external pressure.
In the early stages of introduction of engineering ethics in Japan, the system and the content of engineering ethics were imported from other countries, especially the United States. For example, the Japanese Society for Engineering Education (JSEE) has a Research Committee on Engineering Ethics which surveys the syllabi of engineering ethics related courses in Japan. The committee identified some core elements of the syllabi (Kobayashi and Fudano, Commentary on Learning and Educational Objectives of Engineering Ethics Education. Journal of JSEE 62(4):81–87, 2004). Some of them are indeed affected by the United States. Examples include the use of an analogy between ethical and design problems, and the use of specific methods for ethical decision-making, such as the seven-step guide. The former is an idea proposed by American philosopher Caroline Whitbeck. The latter is a specific method of decision making proposed by American philosopher Michael Davis (for more details, see Hidekazu Kanemitsu, New Trends in Engineering Ethics: A Japanese Perspective. In Albrecht Fritzsche and Sascha Julian Oks (eds.), The Future of Engineering: Philosophical Foundations, Ethical Problems and Application Cases, Philosophy of Engineering and Technology series, New York: Springer. pp. 243-256, 2018).
Japanese identity in engineering ethics
Over the past decade, there have been some unique developments in Japan as well. First, teaching materials unique to Japan are being developed. In engineering ethics education, the importance of case studies and case methods is often pointed out. In fact, various groups of experts have developed cases for teaching engineering ethics. For example, engineering ethics videos developed by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) in the United States are well known. However, there were some problems to using them in Japan: the cultural context in these videos was not familiar to Japanese learners, engineers’ social status was different from that in Japan, etc. Therefore, videos were developed to meet the needs of the Japanese situation. For example, the ‘solar blind’ developed by Kanazawa Institute of Technology is well known (You can see the English version at the following URL: https://wwwr.kanazawa-it.ac.jp/ACES/docs/sb_movie_e.html).
Second, we can point out the trend of Japan developing its own discussion of the concept of engineering ethics. For example, Fudano discusses engineering ethics based on well-being or happiness (for example, see https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jseeen/2018/0/2018_69/_pdf/-char/en). Kanemitsu discusses the necessity of introducing insights on the philosophy of technology into engineering ethics (see Kanemitsu, Ibid). Thus, engineering ethics in Japan was introduced under the strong influence of the United States during the internationalization of engineering qualifications and education. However, it is now developing in its own unique way.