Moral Responsibility, Technology, and Experiences of the Tragic: From Kierkegaard to Offshore Engineering

Science and Engineering Ethics 18 (1):35-48 (2012)
Abstract
The standard response to engineering disasters like the Deepwater Horizon case is to ascribe full moral responsibility to individuals and to collectives treated as individuals. However, this approach is inappropriate since concrete action and experience in engineering contexts seldom meets the criteria of our traditional moral theories. Technological action is often distributed rather than individual or collective, we lack full control of the technology and its consequences, and we lack knowledge and are uncertain about these consequences. In this paper, I analyse these problems by employing Kierkegaardian notions of tragedy and moral responsibility in order to account for experiences of the tragic in technological action. I argue that ascription of responsibility in engineering contexts should be sensitive to personal experiences of lack of control, uncertainty, role conflicts, social dependence, and tragic choice. I conclude that this does not justify evading individual and corporate responsibility, but inspires practices of responsibility ascription that are less ‘harsh’ on those directly involved in technological action, that listen to their personal experiences, and that encourage them to gain more knowledge about what they are doing
Keywords info:mesh/Disasters  info:mesh/Choice Behavior  info:mesh/Social Behavior  info:mesh/Engineering  info:mesh/Uncertainty  info:mesh/Humans  Humans   Uncertainty   Social Behavior   Professional Role   Choice Behavior   Disasters   Engineering   Technology   Ethics, Business   Moral Obligations   Petroleum Pollution  info:mesh/Professional Role  info:mesh/Moral Obligations  info:mesh/Petroleum Pollution  info:mesh/Ethics, Business  info:mesh/Technology
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