Can we engineer an ethical global arms industry?


Professor Davis from the Illinois Institute of Technology was invited by the CLA sponsored Purdue Lectures in Ethics, Policy, and Science coordinated by Thomas Doyle from the Philosophy Department to speak about the global arms race.


Tuesday, October 29th from 4:00 PM – 5:20 PM in Armstrong Hall B071.

His talk starts from a simple premise: “What if the designers of the arms traded worldwide ― engineers ― could use their profession to decrease the harms associated with the weapons that they help produce?” Certainly, a weapon’s effectiveness is determined by its ability to engage in destructive actions but is there a way to account for morality in such destructive actions? Engineers, as professionals, are held to a standard of public accountability; we expect that they design and create projects that decreases harm and increases benefit. It may be the case that engineers have a moral duty to consider the after-effects and harms associated with the weapons they help create. How far does this moral duty extend? What are the limits of this moral duty considering the destructive nature of weaponry? Is it possible for the profession of engineering to produce an ethical global arms trade? Or is such a term a contradiction?

The original insight of this research is that by some estimates there are 875 million small arms already in the world, with 700,000 – 900,000 being created every year (smallarmssurvey.org). Given the nature and purpose of weaponry, it is certain that the easy access to weapons across the globe has resulted in a wide-spread loss of human life and an increase in the trauma associated with gun and warfare violence. Put simply, it hard to assure that the arms that we create and trade do not fall into the hands of people who wish to do others harm. As is stands, the global arms trade seems to be a morally ambiguous enterprise: the benefit of relative global security provided by an increase in arms is contrasted against the horrors and atrocities that result when arms are used for manipulation, civil suppression, and excessive displays of power or control. 

Professor Michael Davis has worked extensively in the field of engineering and professional ethics. His work is featured in numerous textbooks and anthologies on the topic of engineering ethics. Professor Davis will give a talk entitled: “Engineering, Profession, & the Global Arms Industry: A Proposal” which will address some of the pressing ethical issues associated with the global arms industry.

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