Technology assessment and ethics

Poiesis and Praxis 1 (2):95-122 (2002)
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Abstract

Technology assessment (TA) is – for several reasons – not detachable from ethical questions. The development of institutions and concepts for TA, especially in the USA and Western Europe, has been marked by an increasing tendency to focus evaluative and normative questions. In the following paper, we point out, in as far as the common notions of TA are implicitly normative, why reflection upon conceptual options of TA inevitably leads to ethical questions, and that the key question of participation necessarily comes up in the context of societal decisions made under conditions of risk or uncertainty. Arrangements of participatory and discoursive TA are referred to as possible applications of discourse ethics, but there are consequences to consider, which result from discourses in TA not being ideal discourses. Concepts and performance of TA arrangements on biotechnology and gene technology in different European countries are compared, analysing what similarities and differences can be found with respect to ethical clarification. Crucial questions of how to conceptualise participatory TA (pTA) and current topics in ethics of technology are shown to coincide. A proposal is presented of how these – theoretical normative and empirical descriptive – considerations can be used in a comprehensive conception for participatory and discoursive TA

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