Professional engineering ethics

All professions have ethical codes of conduct.

Thomas P Seager, PhD
5 min readJul 18, 2018


“Avoiding injury to others by false and malicious action” evidently doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding injury to others by true or benevolent actions, if you can picture that.

The two professional societies that civil engineers are most often associated with are the National Society of Professional Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers and each publish their own codes of ethics. Comparing the fundamental canons of each reveals that they are very similar, but not uniform.

The National Society of Professional Engineers is the oldest of the ethical codes, and focused on licensed engineers. Because most licensed professional engineers are civil engineers, it seems sensible that the NSPE and ASCE codes should contain several similar provisions. Both codes emphasize the importance of prioritizing public safety ahead of all other interests, which is consistent with an understanding of civil engineering as being in the service of civil society.

Notice in this clip that the hero argues that the needs of the public supersede private interests. His wife’s rejoinder redefines the term “greater good” from a moral calculation that calls for individual sacrifice to a selfish optimization of personal utility.

The clip exemplifies the conflict that can exist for engineers working in business organizations.

One notable difference between NSPE and ASCE is the treatment of sustainability. In the NSPE code, “sustainable development” is listed as a “professional obligation”, rather than a fundamental canon. The ASCE code elevates the visibility of the “principles of sustainable development” by listing them as a fundamental canon.