Technology Assessment or Ethics of Technology?

Ethical Perspectives 6 (2):170-182 (1999)
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Handling the impacts and consequences of technology has become a problem of political, social and scientific relevance since the Sixties. The earlier assumption that technological evolution would automatically lead to social and human progress in an emphatic sense can no longer be sustained. The ambivalence of technology has become a standing topic in the public, philosophical and scientific debate .In this situation new challenges to technology policy are emerging. Functions of an `early warning' with respect to the risks or potentials of new technologies or to ways of avoiding or, at least, resolving technology conflicts by compromise have been postulated . Technology policy pursued by parliament or government, therefore, is in need of scientific consultation . Since the Seventies a number of institutions in this field have been founded , either primarily as parliamentary bureaus of knowledge-transfer to the decision-makers , as networks with a low degree of institutionalization or as independent scientific institutes .The scientific discussion on how to acquire and establish orientational knowledge for decision-makers facing the ambivalence of technology is sectoralized into two branches: the ethics of technology and technology assessment . These two branches are based on fundamentally different assumptions concerning how to give orientation to technology policy: the philosophical ethics, of course, emphasizes the normative implications of decisions on technology and the importance of moral conflicts , while technology assessment relies mainly on sociological or economic research .Both approaches have largely been developed and practised without regard to one another. In Germany, at the beginning of the Nineties the conceptual discussion around these questions was initiated. At first, a lot of misunderstandings appeared, both parties fundamentally criticizing each other, often one denying the competence of the other to deal appropriately with technology problems . In this paper the conflict is analyzed by looking at the situation in Germany, summarizing and weighing the main arguments which have been brought up by TA and the ethical approach to technology.As a result it will be shown that both are partly right, whereby the relative weight of both approaches in their capacity to give orientation is dependent on contextual circumstances. A non-reductionistic overall approach must take into account the normative aspects of the ethics of technology when handling moral conflicts as well as the need for operationalization, concreteness and established knowledge about the processes of “managing technology in society” postulated by TA



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