Volume 40, Issue 2, Summer 2021
Marc Steen, Martin Sand, Ibo Van de Poel
Virtue Ethics for Responsible Innovation
Governments and companies are increasingly promoting and organizing Responsible Innovation. It is, however, unclear how the seemingly incompatible demands for responsibility, which is associated with care and caution, can be harmonized with demands for innovation, which is associated with risk-taking and speed. We turn to the tradition of virtue ethics and argue that it can be a strong accomplice to Responsible Innovation by focussing on the agential side of innovation. Virtue ethics offers an adequate response to the epistemic and moral complexity in innovation and encourages moral behaviour. We enumerate a number of virtues that people involved in Responsible Innovation would need to cultivate both related to responsibility, such as justice, anticipation, civility and inclusion, and virtues related to innovation, such as courage, dedication, curiosity and creativity. We put forward practical wisdom (phronesis) as a key virtue to regulate relevant virtues and to deal with the tension between responsibility and innovation. Practical wisdom helps an agent to find an appropriate mean in exercising and expressing the other virtues—where the mean is relative to the specific context of action and the role and abilities of the agent.