Against over-estimating the role of ethics in technology development

Science and Engineering Ethics 6 (2):181-196 (2000)
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The role of ethics in technology development has been often questioned, especially in the early days of societal reflection of technology. However, the situation has changed dramatically. Ethical consideration now is generally declared to be indispensable in shaping technology in a socially acceptable and sustainable way. The expectations of ethics are large; often even a kind of “New Ethics” is postulated. In the present paper an over-estimation of the role of ethics for technology development is rejected. It is argued that ethical reflection is, indeed, indispensable in certain problem areas and situation types; but there is, on the other hand, space for technology development free from the requirement for ethical reflection. The absence of a requirement for ethical reflection, however, always has to be considered relative to some “morale provisoire” (provisional morality) as an accepted normative framework within which technology development may occur without explicit ethical reflection. If this framework, however, is doubted or is shown to be insufficient the situation changes completely. Ethical reflection in this case becomes necessary, to consider this normative framework in order to offer modifications or supplements.



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