Technology and Civic Virtue

Philosophy and Technology 36 (4):1-22 (2023)
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Abstract

Today, a major technological trend is the increasing focus on the person: technical systems personalize, customize, and tailor to the person in both beneficial and troubling ways. This trend has moved beyond the realm of commerce and has become a matter of public governance, where systems for citizen risk scoring, predictive policing, and social credit scores proliferate. What these systems have in common is that they may target the person and her ethical and political dispositions, her virtues. Virtue ethics is the most appropriate approach for evaluating the impacts of these new systems, which has translated in a revival of talk about virtue in technology ethics. Yet, the focus on individual dispositions has rightly been criticized for lacking a concern with the political collective and institutional structures. This paper advocates a new direction of research into civic virtue, which is situated in between personal dispositions and structures of governance. First, it surveys the discourse on virtue ethics of technology, emphasizing its neglect of the political dimension of impacts of emerging technologies. Second, it presents a pluralist conception of civic virtue that enables us to scrutinize the impact of technology on civic virtue on three different levels of reciprocal reputation building, the cultivation of internal goods, and excellence in the public sphere. Third, it illustrates the benefits of this conceptions by discussing some paradigmatic examples of emerging technologies that aim to cultivate civic virtue.

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