Negative Responsibility

By Joy S.

Consequentialism within ethics is the idea of cause and responsibility of effect.  The doctrine of negative responsibility goes one further, and claims responsibility over inaction.  Bernard Williams, moral philosopher, postulated that everyone has the same amount of responsibility to indirect effects as direct effects. This is due to both purposeful action to cause harm, and inaction to prevent it.  The engineering for social change class has taught me this concept, where no other course has even bothered.  I used to live in a box where the causes and effects were confined within, when in reality, those consequences escaped and propagated into the world.  I might have had a notion that consequences were not so simple, but I definitely had never given it a second thought.  This is my fourth year of taking classes and I have yet to take a class quite like this.  The lectures were truly interesting and unique.  Most of them stood out significantly to me.  The class not only got me interested in unintended consequences, but waste in general.  It has gotten me to do extensive research specifically in water pollution, and other various types of pollutions.  The facts are not pleasant or pretty, but eye opening.  Some facts were down right depressing, but the class gave me motivation to tackle them. The class, and mantra of engineering for social change was something I could hold on to.

The lecture that got me the most interested was Mark Freedman’s about energy from waste plants.  It was really the first lecture that got me feeling passionate and pressure about saving this kind of technology that took care of the unintended consequences of landfills, and provided a sustainable energy sources.  Landfills were meant to contain garbage and solid waste, but it also destroys the surrounding environment, and is a contributing source of other types of pollution.  When Mr. Freedman lectured about the benefits of its incredible energy output, and green, and relatively harmless waste products, I was really excited about the possibilities.  It was only until he informed the class that they were being shut down due to constituents not wanting an eyesore within their vicinity, I was livid.  Here, a viable and clean solution to an unintended consequence, being shut down for superfluous reasons.  The benefits very much outweigh the costs of dealing with the sight of an energy from waste plant.  If it means saving our environment in exchange for cosmetics, we should prioritize that any day.  This lecture specifically had me feeling the injustices that viable solutions to unintended consequences failed.  It made me even more determined that technological solutions should be prioritized.

Going through the process of contacting a Non-Profit and creating a real life project was really interesting.  Although it was frustrating at times with a time constraint, the challenge was enjoyable.  Our group had a lucky interaction with our first chosen non-profit, and quickly came up with a technological solution that we could call our own.  The process of coming up with new ideas was really fun, although when it came to budgeting, it became less enjoyable.  The engineer in me preferred to stay away from the business side, but it is a real aspect that engineers need to take into consideration when creating a project.  It was a hands on experience, which is kind of scarce to come by these days within the curriculum in higher education.  The engineering for social change had a lot of new components that I know I would not have received before the end of my college career.  For that, I am grateful to have been a part of something bigger than learning some derivations.

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