Technology and ethics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L102-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 16, 2022, from

Article Summary

Only within the modern period have philosophers made a direct and sustained study of ethics and technology. Their work follows two philosophical traditions, each marked by distinct styles: the Continental or phenomenological tradition, and the Anglo-American or analytical tradition.

Hans Jonas (1979) articulated one of the basic premises of Continental approaches when he argued for technology as a special subject of ethics: because technology has fundamentally transformed the human condition, generating problems of global magnitude extending into the indefinite future, it calls for a new approach to ethics. Jonas’ basic premise is expressed variously in the works of Karl Marx, Max Scheler, José Ortega y Gasset, Martin Heidegger and others.

Work within the Anglo-American tradition tends not to deal with technology as a whole but to be organized around particular technologies, such as computing, engineering, and medical and biological sciences. It draws on concepts and principles of traditional ethical theory at least as a starting point for analyses. Although each of the technologies has a unique set of problems, certain themes, such as responsibility, risk, equity and autonomy, are common to almost all.

Social scientists have also raised important issues for the field of ethics and technology. Their work has yielded two dominant schools of thought: technological determinism and social constructivism.

    Citing this article:
    Mitcham, Carl and Helen Nissenbaum. Technology and ethics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L102-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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