Technology & Modernity: The Empirical Turn - Agenda  

Organization | Program | Participants | Travel information | Home


Intellectual agenda, workshop Ethics and Technology

Currently, there is ample ethical reflection on different (aspects of) technologies: medical technologies (including genomics), ICT, nano-technologies, engineering ethics, environmental issues raised by technological development, and so forth. However, although much excellent work is being done in separate fields, we feel that moral philosophers working on technology do not share and discuss their ideas as much as would be desirable. We seem to lack opportunities to learn from each other and to collaborate. The goal of the workshop is to bring moral philosophers working on technology together, in the hope that this will contribute to mapping shared problems, solutions and themes. To stimulate and channel this exchange of ideas, we formulated an overarching question: does there exist, or can or should there exist, a form of general technology ethics? And if so, what would it look like?


We hope to approach this question by asking ourselves a set of more preliminary questions: if we are looking at our own ethical work on specific technologies or on specific aspects of technologies, what questions do we encounter that we could reasonably expect to be relevant to our colleagues working on different (aspects of) technologies? And if we feel that we have found some answers for our own discipline, which of them might be relevant to those same colleagues? What theoretical approaches and philosophical avenues have proved to be fruitful for us and might therefore prove to be equally fruitful for others? And which approaches and avenues would you like your colleagues to warn against, given the discussions in your own field?


More specifically, we hope that questions like the following will be part of the workshop discussions:


  • How is technology conceptualized and discussed in different areas of (applied) ethics? 
  • Is the role of technology undervalued in (applied) ethics?
  • Is it possible to arrive at a coherent body of knowledge on ethical aspects of technology that can be used across different areas of applied ethics?
  • Can different fields of applied ethics learn from each other’s treatment of technology?  If so, how?
  • Moral philosophy can boast a very long and rich past. But how much guidance can we expect from the classical philosophers if we want to evaluate modern technologies? And can moral philosophy, which has devoted much of its energy to uncovering eternal and universal foundations, come to terms with the dynamism that characterizes technological cultures?  
  • If the development of technology and society is a co-evolutionary process, what does this finding mean for the moral evaluation of new technologies?
  • New technologies often result in new allocations of responsibilities. How can we map these changes and how can we evaluate them?
  • Within applied ethics, there is an ongoing debate on method: induction, deduction, reflexive equilibrium, phronesis, etcetera. What are the repercussions of this debate for the moral reflection about technologies?
  • Is it right and/or useful to direct much of our attention to individual actors, given that modern technology development is usually a large-scale, multi-actor endeavor?


We hope to get a book out of our workshop. What follows is a preliminary proposal:

Book proposal:  Ethics and Technology

(alternative titles:  Technology in Applied Ethics;  Technology and Applied Ethics; Technology and Ethics)

This is a book proposal that reflects the way we (Tsjalling Swierstra and Philip Brey) are currently thinking about a book publication based on the planned Ethics and Technology Workshop at the University of Twente.  It is by no means intended to prescribe a detailed format at this stage; comments during the workshop itself, and the nature of the various contributions from participants, will of course be major factors in shaping a final proposal.  Also, the proposal now assumes rather comprehensive papers that to an extent survey the field.  Two remarks on this.  While we would like most chapters to contain reviews of previous research and reflect the state of the art, all chapters should also contain original perspectives and analyses of the role of technology, and thus should not merely contain surveys or reviews (For a survey, we already have Ruth Chadwick’s excellent Concise Encyclopedia of the Ethics of New Technologies.)  Second, while we would like papers to devote attention to surveying the field, we realize that some authors will want to present more specific or focused papers, that relate more directly to their ongoing research, and we are happy to include less comprehensive papers that in an original way address the relation between technology and ethics. 

The binding aim of the book remains to analyze or theorize the treatment of technology in different areas of (applied) ethics and to assess whether it is possible to arrive at a coherent body of knowledge on ethical aspects of technology that can be used across different areas of applied ethics.

Candidate editors for the book are Philip Brey and Tsjalling Swierstra, but we will also consider offers from speakers to join the editorial team (which may prompt one of us to drop out when the team gets to be too large).  We are envisaging the following (rough) timetable for a book publication:


December 2003/January 2004: 

Brey and Swierstra make early inquiries with publishers regarding their interest to publish a book on ethics and technology.

February/March 2004: 

An editorial team is formed.  The editors will ask a number of the workshop participants to develop their contribution into a (new) academic paper for the book. The board will also give feedback on papers/presentations at the workshop with suggestions for the way they could be developed into a book contribution.

April 2004

The editors will send a book proposal to a publisher, and expect a positive response.

October 2004: 

Due date for first drafts

November 2004: 

Feedback from the editors on drafts.

February 2005: 

Revised versions due.  The full text will be sent to the publisher.

Somewhere in late 2005 or 2006: 

The book is published



Possible outline of the book:


1.      Introductory Chapter:  Ethics and Technology (written by the editors)

The chapter surveys the state of the art in various areas of (applied) ethics regarding the role and treatment of technology in them.  It also discusses the role that research on technology development and on the technology and society (as is found, in particular, in science and technology studies) is used, or may be used, in (applied) ethics research.   Finally, it anticipates on the other chapters in the book and tries to locate common themes and lessons.


2.      Chapter on General Ethical Studies of Technology

The chapter discusses general ethical and philosophical critiques of technology (e.g., Jonas, Borgmann, Illich, Heidegger), and assesses how technology is conceptualized in these works and to what extent these general critiques are, or can be, used in applied ethics research.


3.      Chapter on Science and Technology Studies and Technology Ethics

The chapter discusses recent developments in science and technology studies (STS), their relevance to ethics, and the extent to which STS already informs (applied) ethics, and may do this more so in the future. 


4.      Chapter on Technology Assessment, Risk and Technology Ethics

The chapter looks at how technology assessment methods may include ethical components, it looks at the field of “ethical technology assessment,” it possibly also looks at the ethical literature on technological risks, and it considers how technology assessment methods may inform ethics.


5.      Chapter on Engineering Ethics and Technology

The chapter considers the role of technology in engineering ethics, and considers how current work in engineering ethics treats the role of technology and its ethical aspects and how it may do so more effectively in the future. Furthermore, the chapter argues for the relevance of some findings of engineering ethics for the general field of technology ethics.


6.      Chapter on Medical Ethics and Technology

Same as 5, but then for medical ethics.


7.      Chapter on Environmental Ethics and Technology

Same as 5, but then for environmental ethics.


8.      Chapter on Genomics or Biotechnology and Ethics

Same as 5, but then for ethics of biotechnology or genomics.


9.      Chapter on Information Technology and Ethics (the Role of Technology in Computer Ethics)

Same as 5, but then for computer ethics.


10.    Chapter on Technology Ethics as a discipline

This concluding chapter draws together the suggestions made in the preceding chapter, to sketch a coherent picture of what Technology Ethics stands for, and what issues, approaches and discussions currently define it.

  Organization | Program | Participants | Travel information | Home