Two Recent Lessons in Ethical Humility: Boeing’s 737 MAX and Volkswagen’s Dieselgate


Volkswagen engineers cheated: they intentionally misled U.S. regulars using software. The engine's software sensed when a vehicle was being tested for emissions, and changed the engine's performance so that its emissions were low. When the engine software sensed that the vehicle was not being tested for emissions, it change the engine's performance to increase power and efficiency, at the cost of increased emissions. The cheat went undiscovered for a decade. The Boeing 737 MAX mistakes were at least superficial less blatant than the Volkswagen cheat, but has also been disastrous for the company, its customers, and many passengers. The problems with the 737 MAX involved hardware and software modifications that, apparently, were not sufficiently tested, and for which pilots were not sufficiently trained. The problems came to light when two 737 MAX airlines crashed, with all aboard lost. In this talk we will briefly analyze each case first by identifying stakeholders and next by describing important technical details. Next, we will apply a utilitarian analysis and a virtue ethics analysis to both cases. Finally, we will examine how these two cases are different, and how they are alike. Our conclusion is that in both these cases successful corporations that had previously prided themselves on their professionalism lost their vision, and sacrificed their integrity. We will discuss how corporations and citizens can try to avoid such calamities in the future.

Author Information
Keith Miller, University of Missouri-St. Louis, United States
Riaz Zaidi, University of Missouri-St. Louis, United States

Paper Information
Conference: ACERP2020
Stream: Ethics - Ethics, Law, and Justice

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon