Technology and ethics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L102-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved September 22, 2021, from

4. Other approaches to ethics and technology

Political, economic, and social science studies of technology also often have ethical dimensions. For example, political science studies of the governmental regulation of technology and of law-technology relations have obvious implications for ethics. Not only public policy efforts at technology assessment, but attempts to develop scientific techniques of policy analysis ultimately reflect and influence ethical decision-making. The same is true for efforts to manage more effectively social investments in innovation at both the state and corporate levels, and even for welfare economics.

The ethical implications of social science approaches to technology centre around the issue of technological determinism, that is, the idea that technology is the primary determinant of social life, developing in an almost independent or autonomous manner. During the 1950s and 1960s, critics often opposed popular optimism about the unqualified benefits of technological progress with theories of technological determinism. Ironically, these theories almost immediately galvanized moral protest against technology. This protest was subsequently provided with theoretical justification by new studies that developed a social constructivist understanding of technological change, in which numerous agents and influences could be seen to exercise a series of micro-influences often invisible at the macro level (see Technology, philosophy of §4). Determinist and social constructivist interpretations, although apparently opposed, have quite similar moral implications. Both effectively highlight the continuing need for ethical examination of technology in a highly technological world.

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