Professional Responsibility — Do The Right Thing
In Western culture, three professions are recognized. They are medicine, the law, and theology. The practitioners of these professions have long been accorded a special status in society in recognition of their special knowledge. The physician is expected to use his knowledge of healing only for good, and never to murder or maim a person. The lawyer is expected to give correct legal advice to his clients, to keep them free from legal entanglements. The theologian is expected to always correctly guide folk in the right way according to their faith, so that they avoid eternal condemnation. In every one of these professional roles, the professional person is seen as a protector of society at large.
Engineering has much more humble beginnings. In the earliest days, engineers were simply builders of whatever was needed, whether it be a canal, a windmill, a bridge, or a fortification. As such, they were carpenters, stone masons, blacksmiths, etc. Over time, with the application of mathematics, engineering has gradually become recognized as a profession, similar to the classical professions. It is based on a core of specialized knowledge, and it has a responsibility to society at large to protect that society. Thus the man who designs and constructs a bridge assumes responsibility for assuring that the bridge will not fall. The man who designs a complex assembly machine assumes a responsibility that (1) the machine will function and not be a waste of the investor’s money, and (2) that the machine will function safely and not endanger the workers nearby.