Moral Deliberation: The Leak

This activity provides an opportunity to develop your moral perception and become familiar with the process of supporting moral judgments with moral reasons. Read the vignette below and then engage in the activities that follow.
George is studying for an engineering degree, working at a co-op in a manufacturing plant operated by Burdell Corporation. A few weeks into his employment, he discovers that one piece of equipment is leaking industrial lubricants that are making their way into the ground under the plant. He checks maintenance records and discovers that the equipment has been consuming excess lubricant for the past six months. He brings this to the attention of his supervisor and expresses his concern that the oil would probably find its way into the groundwater under the plant. His supervisor tells him to mind his own business: “You’re just a student; you don’t understand how things work in the real world. The process is working fine, even if it does take a little extra lubricant now and again. Besides, we’ve been working with the lubricant for years, and it’s never killed anyone.” Not satisfied with this, George does some more research and discovers that the groundwater under the plant makes its way to a nearby river, just upstream from a metropolitan area. George needs to figure out whether to tell anyone else about this problem.

Part 1. Moral Perception

Each of the statements below is an example of a potential moral rule (R), moral principle (P), or moral value (V) applicable to the provided case. In the process of moral perception your goal is simply to identify what may be relevant to the case – what some reasonable perspective may believe is relevant. So, regardless of whether you believe any of the following are in fact values, rules, or principles, your task is simply to identify what each is attempting to represent, given its structure.

__ 1. Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public

__ 2. Engineers are encouraged to adhere to principles of sustainable development

__ 3. Those potentially at risk from an environmental hazard should be informed about the environmental hazard

__ 4. Corporations should eliminate environmental waste whenever possible

__ 5. Clean water

__ 6. Engineers should avoid making public any information that may materially harm their employer or client

__ 7. Animal well-being

__ 8. A property owner is free to pollute their own land, even if doing so pollutes nearby land

__ 9. If an engineer’s judgment is overruled in circumstances that may threaten harm or property damage, they must report the threat to their employer, client, and any other appropriate authorities

__ 10. Employees are not generally responsible for corporate harms

The correct labeling for the above statements can be found at the end of this page.[1]

Part 2. Moral Deliberation

Once you have a reasonable grasp of the morally relevant features of a situation, you should consider them all together to help you make an informed and supportable decision. Below you are provided with 4 option for how George should respond to the situation. Choose whichever you think is best and then work to construct at least 2 moral reasons that would support your option. These moral reasons should appeal to the values, principles, and/or rules you identified above. Now, you should consider which of the supposed values/rules/principles are in fact values/rules/principles that we should consider.

  1. George should inform upper management (beyond his supervisor) of the issue, but go no further regardless of result
  2. George should inform upper management and, if no action is taken, outside authorities as well
  3. George should remain quiet
  4. George should immediately inform appropriate regulatory authorities

Part 3. Deeper Moral Deliberation

It is important to be able to support your choices with moral reasons. But it is also important to understand why you may be wrong – why others may reasonably disagree with you. So, now you should attempt to construct at least 1 moral reason for why your choice in Part 2 is the wrong choice. Again, your moral reason(s) should appeal to applicable values, rules, and/or principles.

  1. 1. P; 2. P; 3. R; 4. R/P; 5. V; 6. R; 7. V; 8. R; 9. R; 10. P


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The Primacy of the Public by Marcus Schultz-Bergin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.