Smart Thinking

The Hammurabi Code

Hammurabi, the sixth Babylonian king established the Hammurabi code. How could this code be applied to professional standards in modern engineering?

Hammurabi, the sixth Babylonian king established the Hammurabi code, which dates from 1772 BC.

A significant portion of the Code deals with contract agreements and an early ‘form of wage regulation’. Liability and punishment for poor design and construction were laid out as part of the Code dealing with quality requirements and the consequences of substandard workmanship. Poor construction resulting in loss of life was repaid by the forfeit of the life of the constructor.

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Ethical Engineering and the Hammurabi Code

Jason Goodyer writing in the March edition of Engineering and Technology News magazine, examines the need for an ‘engineering oath’. Does engineering need a formalised ethical oath and moral framework? Jason reflects that the Hammurabi code is an undeniable early example of the principle that:

as holders of specialist skills and knowledge, engineers have a duty incumbent on them to protect members of the general public.


The Hammurabi Code

Figures at top of stele “fingernail” above Hammurabi’s code of laws. (photo credit Wikipedia)

Professional ethics are central to the ethos of chartered status. Most engineers will (with suitable years of experience, responsibility and professional development) wish to attain chartered status. This ensures that the ‘pillars of the profession’ are well grounded in common ethical standards and codes of practice.

A number of professions (armed services, parliamentarians and doctors) still swear various oaths of allegiance. Is there a place for an oath for new entrants into the engineering profession?

Getting into Engineering Courses

The Calling of an Engineer

Graduation in engineering in Canada involves the ceremony of the Calling of an Engineer. The ritual was conceived by H. E. T. Haultain (pictured) who asked Rudyard Kipling to create it. It is administered by The Corporation of the Seven Wardens and participants take an obligation and are conferred the Iron Ring as part of the ritual.

H. E. T. Haultain

In the United States, the Order of the Engineer is an association for both graduate and professional engineers. It is pre-dated by the Canadian ‘Calling of an Engineer ritual’. “The Obligation of an Engineer” must be taken prior to admission.

Further Reading on Engineering

By Steve Nimmons

Steve is a Certified European Engineer, Chartered Engineer, Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Royal Society of Arts, Linnean Society and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He is an Electric Circle Patron of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, a Liveryman and Freeman of London and serves on numerous industry panels. He is a member of Chatham House, the Royal United Services Institute and the Chartered Institute of Journalists.