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Is an engineer morally responsible for harm caused by their creations?

I am currently on the path to become a mechanical engineer. I don't have exact numbers, but I'd estimate that about a half of all engineering work goes into weapons. This is based on anecdotal evidence I have gathered in my home town and is most certainly up for debate. If I am correct, though, I will probably end up designing instruments of death and destruction at one point in my life. If I work on a gun that kills an innocent man, woman or child, I don't know that I could sleep soundly ever again. I don't know that I could explain to the victim's mother why I made something so lethal. My worst nightmare is sitting on my deathbed thinking of nothing but those I helped kill. As Peter van Uhm explains, they can also be instruments of peace, I find that less than consoling considering the potential for misuse. I would appreciate thoughtful responses. It's easy to answer "no" but please consider the emotional aspects as well.

Topics: engineering war

Closing Statement from Nolan Poe

This question had a variety of answers. Most agreed that weapons and weapons development were necessary. Some urged me to stick to what I feel is best, regardless of what the world and its nations want. A few suggested that I had already decided, which isn't true per se. The default scenario is for me to go about my career with little regard as to what my work will be used for. The reason I asked the question is because I was uneasy with this and curious about how others had rationalized it, if at all. I'd like to thank everyone for responding and helping me figure out what to do with my life.

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    jag . 50+

    • +2
    Feb 5 2012: Great question, I'm a civil engineer and I have asked myself the same question. Luckily I have found my passion, and it is to do with working in developing countries and reducing poverty through engineering.

    You could check out EWB (Engineers Without Borders) http://www.ewb-uk.org/

    WEDC http://wedc.lboro.ac.uk/

    Redr http://www.redr.org.uk/

    Feel free to contact me if you want more info :)
    • Feb 7 2012: I think I will contact you at some point. I've been looking at EWB ever since I graduated high school, and it would be good to ask questions to somebody who actually does it!

      Unrelated: Civil Engineers don't have to deal with the moral stuff as much, because you know.... Mechanical engineers build weapons, civil engineers build targets. ;)

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