3.6 From Theory to Decision--Practical Morality

The focus of this book is not moral/ethical theory in isolation but rather the interplay between high technology and the practical ethics of the society. Some issues of great importance to everyday relationships will not be considered at all in this text, and some that most people would not normally think about become central to these discussions because they relate specifically to science and technology.

Furthermore, it is time to move from theory to practice. It is useful to examine, understand, and even adapt theories of making ethical statements, but if these theories are to have more than abstract value, they must be put to practical use--in this case by examining the high technology society and trying in part to determine what difference ethical theories make when they are actually applied in real life by the members of that society.

The relationship between moral philosophy and morality is akin to the one between theoretical physics and engineering. For instance, it is interesting to know something of how the structure of various metal alloys gives them certain physical properties, but it is more useful to society to employ this knowledge to build a safe and efficient bridge. In addition, mere knowledge of how to build a bridge will not bring one into being; there must also be an engagement of the will, a decision to take action, and this followed by the action itself.

Likewise, it is not enough just to know what is a good action that serves God or humanity in the best possible way, for one could still choose to do the opposite out of self-interest. For example, if law does derive from ethical consensus, then it is at least in the long-term best interests of society to have a consensus that is generally applied, that is reflected in the laws of nations, and that has been adapted to the particular needs of the day and age.

Specific ethical and societal problems related to high technology will be discussed in appropriate chapters. An attempt will be made in each case to provide a historical context for the situation and to examine it within an ethical framework as well. In many cases, the need for solutions to problems will be pointed out and one or more possible directions for change will be given, but these will not be the only possibilities. Readers will be expected to provide some of their own solutions, particularly in questions at the end of chapters.

Profile On ... Applying Ethics To Technology

The following widely-circulated statement was adapted by an international symposium on ethics and technology held in Haifa and Jerusalem in December, 1974.

The Mount Carmel Declaration

1. We recognize the great contributions of technology to the improvement of the human condition. Yet continued intensification and extension of technology has unprecedented potentialities for evil as well as good. Technological consequences are now so ramified and interconnected, so sweeping in unforeseen results, so grave in the magnitude of the irreversible changes they induce, as to constitute a threat to the very survival of the species.

2. While actions at the level of community and state are urgently needed, legitimate local interests must not take precedence over the common interest of all human beings in justice, happiness, and peace. Responsible control of technology by social systems and institutions is an urgent global concern, overriding all conflicts of interest and all divergencies in religion, race or political allegiance. Ultimately all must benefit from the promise of technology, or all must suffer--even perish--together.

3. Technological applications and innovations result from human actions. As such, they demand political, social, economic,ecological and above all moral evaluation. No technology is morally "neutral".

4. Human beings, both as individuals and as members or agents of social institutions, bear the sole responsibility for abuses of technology. Invocation of supposedly inflexible laws of technological inertia and technological transformation is an evasion of moral and political responsibility.

5. Creeds and moral philosophies that teach respect for human dignity can, in spite of all differences, unite in actions to cope with the problems posed by new technologies. It is an urgent task to work toward new codes for guidance in an age of pervasive technology.

6. Every technological undertaking must respect basic human rights and cherish human dignity. We must not gamble with human survival. We must not degrade people into things used by machines: every technological innovation must be judged by its contributions to the development of genuinely free and creative persons.

7. The "developed" and the "developing" nations have different priorities but an ultimate convergence of shared interests:

For the developed nations: rejection of expansion at all costs and the selfish satisfaction of ever-multiplying desires--and adoption policies of principled restraint--with unstinting assistance to the unfortunate and the underprivileged.

For the developing nations: complementary but appropriately modified policies of principled restraint, especially in population growth, and a determination to avoid repeating the excesses and follies of the more "developed" economies.

Absolute priority should be given to the relief of human misery, the eradication of hunger and disease, the abolition of social injustice and the achievement of lasting peace.

8. These problems and their implications need to be discussed and investigated by all educational institutions and all media of communication. They call for intense and imaginative research enlisting the cooperation of humanists and social scientists, as well as natural scientists and technologists. Better technology is needed, but will not suffice to solve the problems caused by intensive uses of technology. We need guardian disciplines to monitor and assess technological innovations, with especial attention to their moral implications.

9. Implementation of these purposes will demand improved social institutions through the active participation of statesmen and their expert advisers, and the informed understanding and consent of those most directly affected--especially the young, who have the greatest stake in the future.

10. This agenda calls for sustained work on three distinct but connected tasks: the development of "guardian disciplines" for watching, modifying, improving, and restraining the human consequences of technology (a special but not exclusive responsibility of the scientists and technologists who originate technological innovations); the confluence of varying moral codes in common action; and the creation of improved educational and social institutions.

From: Ethics in an Age of Pervasive Technology Melvin Kranzberg (ed)

The Fourth Civilization Table of Contents
Copyright © 1988-2002 by Rick Sutcliffe
Published by Arjay Books division of Arjay Enterprises