Ethics of technology

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Ethics in technology is a sub-field of ethics addressing the ethical questions specific to the Technology Age. Some prominent works of philosopher Hans Jonas are devoted to ethics of technology. It is often held that technology itself is incapable of possessing moral or ethical qualities, since "technology" is merely tool making. But many now believe that each piece of technology is endowed with and radiating ethical commitments all the time, given to it by those that made it, and those that decided how it must be made and used. Whether merely a lifeless amoral 'tool' or a solidified embodiment of human values "ethics of technology" refers to two basic subdivisions:-

  • The ethics involved in the development of new technology—whether it is always, never, or contextually right or wrong to invent and implement a technological innovation.
  • The ethical questions that are exacerbated by the ways in which technology extends or curtails the power of individuals—how standard ethical questions are changed by the new powers.

In the former case, ethics of such things as computer security and computer viruses asks whether the very act of innovation is an ethically right or wrong act. Similarly, does a scientist have an ethical obligation to produce or fail to produce a nuclear weapon? What are the ethical questions surrounding the production of technologies that waste or conserve energy and resources? What are the ethical questions surrounding the production of new manufacturing processes that might inhibit employment, or might inflict suffering in the third world?

In the latter case, the ethics of technology quickly break down into the ethics of various human endeavors as they are altered by new technologies. For example, bioethics is now largely consumed with questions that have been exacerbated by the new life-preserving technologies, new cloning technologies, and new technologies for implantation. In law, the right of privacy is being continually attenuated by the emergence of new forms of surveillance and anonymity. The old ethical questions of privacy and free speech are given new shape and urgency in an Internet age. Such tracing devices as RFID, biometric analysis and identification, genetic screening, all take old ethical questions and amplify their significance.

Several courses regarding the ethics of technology are available. Generally speaking, utilization of source texts and film are used to engage students.

See also


  • Hans Jonas: The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of Ethics for the Technological Age (1979)
  • Hans Jonas: On Technology, Medicine and Ethics (1985)
  • Melanie G. Snyders: CyberEthics and Internet Downloads: An Age by Age Guide to Teaching Children what they need to know (2005)

Further reading


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  • Kristin Shrader-Frechette. (2003). "Technology and Ethics," in Philosophy of Technology: The Technological Condition, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Eugene Mirman. (2009) "The Will To Whatevs: A Guide to Modern Life." Harper Perennial.
  • Daniel A. Vallero. (2007) "Biomedical Ethics for Engineers: Ethics and Decision Making in Biomedical and Biosystem Engineering." Amsderdam: Academic Press.

Ethics, technology and engineering

  • Fleddermann, C.B. (2011). Engineering Ethics. Prentice Hall. 4th edition.
  • Harris, C.E., M.S. Pritchard, and M.J. Rabins (2008). Engineering Ethics: Concepts and Cases. Wadsworth Publishing, 4th edition.
  • Hauser-Katenberg, G., W.E. Katenberg, and D. Norris (2003). "Towards Emergent Ethical Action and the Culture of Engineering," Science and Engineering Ethics, 9, 377-387.
  • Huesemann M.H., and J.A. Huesemann (2011). Technofix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment, Chapter 14, "Critical Science and Social Responsibility", New Society Publishers.
  • Layton, E. (1986). The Revolt of the Engineers: Social Responsibility and the American Engineering Profession. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Martin, M.W., and R. Schinzinger (2004). Ethics in Engineering. McGraw-Hill. 4th edition.
  • Mitcham, C. (1984). Thinking through technology, the path between engineering and philosophy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Vallero, D. (2012) "Ethical Decisions in Emergent Science, Engineering and Technologies." in "Emerging Informatics - Innovative Concepts and Applications". InTech. DOI: 10.5772/36313.
  • Van de Poel, I., and L. Royakkers (2011). Ethics, Technology, and Engineering: An Introduction. Wiley-Blackwell.

Education and technology

  • Marga, A. (2004). "University Reforms in Europe: Some Ethical Considerations," Higher Education in Europe, Vol. 79, No. 3, pp. 432–820.

External links