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Ethical Theories in engineering essay


If you must write a paper on ethics, engineering is one topic you must deal with. The modern technological environment demands that engineers be able to point out good ethical behaviors in their work. It is therefore common to have engineering students write an essay on ethics in their final years. Engineering ethics paper writing must be perfect in order for an engineer to be considered fit for work in the field.

Engineers all over the world understand the importance of ethics in both professional and nonprofessional lives. Ethics or moral philosophy refers to the field of thinking that deals with aspects of right and wrong behavior (Fieser, 2014). Consequently, ethical behavior in engineering refers to those actions that are in accordance with the ethical principles. In other words, ethical behavior is a moral behavior. The utilitarian, libertarian, and deontological ethical theories are some of the three types of ethics or ethical philosophy that apply to business operations. Utilitarian, libertarian, and deontological ethical theories often aim at minimizing harm to the recipient. This paper applies ethics and moral principles to the General Motors’ case.

Section 1: The Similarities and Differences between Utilitarian, Libertarian, and Deontological Ethical theories


First and foremost, utilitarian, libertarian, and deontological theories are normative ethical theories. These theories are concerned with the systemic analysis of right and wrong action (Mill, 2010). The three theories all categorize human actions as either right or wrong.

At the same time, utilitarian, libertarian, and deontological theories promote the wellbeing of the client. These theories regard moral actions as those activities that promote the welfare of the client. According to the utilitarian, libertarian, and deontological theories, it is upon the actors and not the recipients or clients to promote ethical behaviour.      


 Utilitarian, libertarian, and deontological apply different principles when it comes to making decisions about the right and wrong actions. Utilitarian theories rely on the outcome to determine the morality of human actions. Utilitarian ethical theories suggest that, an action is right or moral if it contributes to the welfare of the majority (McGee, 2010). That is, an action is wrong if it contributes to the most people’s welfare; in other words, an action is considered to be either wrong or immoral if it contributes to the prosperity of the minority.

On the other hand, libertarian ethics relies on liberty or the principle of autonomy, to determine the right and wrong actions. From the utilitarian theoretical perspective, an action is believed to be right if it contributes to the liberty and freedoms of the whole society (Ronnegard, & Smith, 2011). Therefore, the utilitarian understands the moral action is an act that promotes the liberty and freedom of the whole community.

Deontological theories determine the morality of human action by referring to the duty principles. The deontological ethical theories rely on various duty-related ideals that individuals should adhere to. These include one’s duty to God, oneself, and other people (Fieser, 2014). Therefore, utilitarian, libertarian and deontological apply different approaches to determine the right and wrong human actions.

Section 2 GM’s Ethical Issues

General Motors Company (GM) is subject to several ethical issues concerning the manner in which it handled its business. First and foremost, GM’s mismanaged its business leading to a loss of more than $49.5 billion before 2009 bailout. In other words, GM’s bankruptcy was because the company lacked strategic approaches to predict market forces and the state of the economy to ensure profitability. As a result, GM was compelled to seek for bailout from the American taxpayers to recover its business.

Next, the GM’s management sold the company’s assets leading to the loss of $11.2 billion of taxpayers’ money. This is because GM’s action to sell its assets led to a permanent loss of 11.2 billion. However, GM could not have lost $11.2 billion of taxpayer’s money if it had thought carefully before disposing of its assets. The sale of GM’s assets was attributed to the fact that GM mismanagement the problem.  In other words, GM’s mismanaged problem led the company to make wrong investment decisions.

Lastly, GM recalled most of the cars it had manufactured due to technical defects. Apparently, GM recalled more than 27, 000,000 cars that had design problems. The recall process was based on complaints that were raised by GM’s customers on the need for the recall. Mechanical or design problems have also attracted a number of court cases that might force the company to compensate the customers affected by the technical defects. The high number of lawsuits might cause substantial decrease in the company’s profitability.

Why GM’S Sale of Assets was Unethical

The GM’s sale of assets was unethical. GM should have applied utilitarian ethical principle to make decisions on whether it would sell its assets or not. The utilitarian asserts that the purpose of the government’s bailout to the auto industry was to enable the organization attain economic recovery (Singh, 2012).  This was because the auto industry employed most of the American workers. In fact, the American auto industry employs many people directly and indirectly. General Motors is one of the leading car companies in the United States. This implies that many people rely on GM for their survival. For example, salespersons, the media, mechanics, carwash operators, GM’s internal workforce, paint manufacturers, tyre manufacturers, restaurants, government, groceries, and showroom operators among others, rely on GM for survival. As such, the government bailed GM because of the crucial role of GM in the lives of many Americans.

The sale of GM’s assets was an irrational act whose consequences could lead to the suffering of millions of people. This is because GM failed to evaluate the effect that the sale of the assets would pose on all of those who relied on the company for survival. For example, it was obvious that GM would be forced to lay-off most workers if it had failed to run a profitable business. Mass layoffs would affect the businesses, the government, and all those who directly or indirectly relied on GM for survival. Therefore, the sale of GM’s assets was unethical because it would have caused many to suffer. In other words, the sale of GM’s assets was wrong because it exposed majority at risk of injuries at the workplace.             

Why GM’s Recall of 27, 000, 000 Cars was Ethical

GM’s recall of cars was ethical. First and foremost, GM has the responsibility to its customers, the duty to ensure that the cars are of superior quality (Fieser, 2014). According to the language of the deontological ethical theory, GM has the duty to ensure that its customers do not suffer injuries due to mechanical or technical failures. This is because mechanical failures could cause accidents which might end-up killing many people. At the same time, GM had the duty to protect the interests of those who were not its customers. This is based on the deontological ethical theories that suggest that GM had the duty to minimize or eliminate injuries to all persons. GM’s act of recalling 27 million cars was a courageous and selfless move. This is because GM ignored the fact that the recall was going to damage its reputation and business at large. Nevertheless, GM accepted its mistake because it cared for its customers.

In addition, GM’s recall of 27, 000, 000 cars was ethical. This is because GM had focused on correcting the problem that had occurred to enable it promote safety and security of its stakeholders. In other words, the security of GM’s cars was ethical because it was GM’s duty to promote safety and security. In other words, GM was right to recall the 27, 000, 000 cars because it had purposed to fulfill its duty to the consumers. Therefore, GM’s move to recall the 27, 000, 000 cars that had design defects was ethical.


Ethics is important for an engineer because it reduces adverse effects to the other people. Utilitarian, libertarian, and deontological ethical theories are some of the three types of ethics or ethical philosophy that apply to the business operations. Utilitarian ethical theories determine the morality of an action by determining the net positive outcome of the action. On the hand, the Libertarian ethical theories determine the morality of an action by evaluating its contribution in promoting social liberties. However, the deontological ethical theories determine the morality of an action by assessing fulfillment of one’s duties to oneself, other people, and God. GM’s sale of assets was unethical because it did not fulfill the requirement of utilitarian ethical theories. On the other hand, GM’s recall of 27 million cars that had design defects was ethical because it fulfilled the principles outlined in the deontological ethical theories.

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Fieser, J. (2014). Ethics.  Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 31, October, 2014, from,

McGee, R. W. (2010). Analyzing insider trading from the perspectives of utilitarian ethics and rights theory. Journal of Business Ethics91(1), 65-82.

Mill, J. S. (2010). On normative ethical theories: Some basics. Retrieved 31, October, 2014, from,

Ronnegard, D., & Smith, N. C. (2011). Shareholders vs. stakeholders: How liberal and libertarian political philosophy frames the basic debate in business ethics. INSEAD Faculty & Research Working Papers. Retrieved 31, October, 2014, from,

Singh, A. (2012). Bankrupt: An ethical analysis of the 2009 Auto Bailout. Intersect: The Stanford Journal of Science, Technology and Society5.


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