The Nazi Engineers: Reflections on Technological Ethics in Hell

TitleThe Nazi Engineers: Reflections on Technological Ethics in Hell
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsKatz, E.
Secondary TitleScience and Engineering Ethics
Abstract

Engineers, architects, and other technological professionals designed the genocidal death machines of the Third Reich. The death camp operations were highly efficient, so these technological professionals knew what they were doing: they were, so to speak, good engineers. As an educator at a technological university, I need to explain to my students-future engineers and architects-the motivations and ethical reasoning of the technological professionals of the Third Reich. I need to educate my students in the ethical practices of this hellish regime so that they can avoid the kind of ethical justifications used by the Nazi engineers. In their own professional lives, my former students should not only be good engineers in a technical sense, but good engineers in a moral sense. In this essay, I examine several arguments about the ethical judgments of professionals in Nazi Germany, and attempt a synthesis that can provide a lesson for contemporary engineers and other technological professionals. How does an engineer avoid the error of the Nazi engineers in their embrace of an evil ideology underlying their technological creations? How does an engineer know that the values he embodies through his technological products are good values that will lead to a better world? This last question, I believe, is the fundamental issue for the understanding of engineering ethics.