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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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    • Feb 7 2012: Thank you, very insightful. Regarding not playing the world's game, you have to understand that Engineers must follow the money. It's not greed, it's just how the supply and demand of labor works.
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        • Feb 7 2012: I'd like to believe what you're saying is false, but it's true. I don't want anyone to give me permission as much as I want them to explain how they rationalize it, but that's a technicality. I'm not the first to be faced with this dilemma and I won't be the last, so it was just an appeal to those older than me for insight into this decision.
      • Feb 7 2012: There may be reasonable compromises but there is no "must" about following the money. Drawing a line not to be crossed is part of what morality is about.
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        Feb 8 2012: You are only faced with a dilemma because you make it one. On one hand you want the money, on the other, you know what you will do for a job will be wrong. If you followed what you know to be the right path, there would be no dilemma. In fact, the only dilemma you really have is 'how do I make myself feel better about this?'

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