Can we take a more deliberate, appropriate, and responsible approach to science and technology?

Graduate: 4/21
Undergrad: 4/22


See Also


Part of the problem of values in science and technology is the way that science and technology move ahead without deliberate, explicit reflection on risks and consequences, on the ethical and political values that will be impacted by various courses of research and innovation. There are several approaches to the development of science and technology that are not entirely skeptical or pessimistic, but that recommend slowing down and proceeding with caution.

A conservative philosophy of technology would recommend that we only pursue the development of technologies that are consistent with existing values, that do not destroy something good that already exists. Conservatism prefers the certainty of existing goods to the possibility of future goods when the latter comes at the cost of the former, even if there is reason to believe that innovation could bring about much greater value by disrupting existing values. It is, in other words, a very cautious, deliberate approach, but not one that would necessarily disrupt all innovations. A related approach is known as “appropriate technology,” which is focused on developments that are environmentally sustainable, decentralized, locally controlled, and appropriate to the values and needs of a particular situation.

Within philosophy of science, one such view is Janet Kourany’s socially responsible science, which insists that a scientific result is acceptable if and only if it meets a high standard of ethical evaluation that matches the existing standards of epistemic evaluation. In other words, “scientifically sound but socially irresponsible” becomes a contradiction in terms rather than a common problem. We would replace our sense of what counts as good science in terms of what is ethically as well as empirically “good.”

Leave a Reply