15 July 2008

Ethical problem-solving

A thought. In this day and age, branches of academic studies are getting so specialized that specialists are typically just focused on solving the (mathematical) problem at hand. They are, or at least I was, usually not sensitized to the ethics behind the problems they are tasked to solve. For instance, consider a mathematician tasked to solve for:

The most efficient dimensions of a gas chamber to gas 5,000 people with an average weight of 60 kg.

It is all too easy to "assume a gaseous flow of x cubic metre per second", solve the equation from there and get a nice promotion out of it. But what of the consequences behind the solution?

Could it really be possible to justify to oneself, "But I was just solving a math equation!', and sleep well at night?


  1. Indeed. I think its more often a matter of trust in the principles of whoever will be using the stuff. Most good things can also be used for bad. But its definitely important for every specialist to be aware... unfortunately I don't think many bother.

  2. The question is whether we have equipped people sufficiently with the ability to discern ethical considerations. I personally would like to see philosophy classes inserted into the standard high school and university curriculum.