Proceedings of the XXII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 3, 2008

Applied Ethics

Jian Wang, Dong Ming Cao
Pages 155-170


With the rapid development of modern technology, people has stepped into an risky era. Ethical stipulation is the important means to reduce the risks. But in reality, ethical stipulation of technology always face some kind of dilemma which mainly come from two aspects: one is that when we try to regulate the subject of technology, we find that it always difficult to distinguish the responsibilities. The other aspect is that when we try to limit the result of technology, we often have to give up because of lacking feasibility, which means we sink into the famous “Collingridge dilemma”. Are we able to get out of the dilemma? What should we do if we want to got out of it? First, in the modern technological system, individual’s action is taken over by group’s action according to the technological criterion. Any part of the modern technology need multiple subjects finish his job during the course. Therefore a new form of responsibility named group responsibility has been formed. Like Johnas said, in this ethics, ‘I’ will be replaced by ‘we’ and decision will be the business of a group. So it is difficult for us to find out that “I” from “us” once the technological risks happened. We lost the object of ethical stipulation as the result of no convinced standard and principals of prescribing the group responsibility. Second, when we try to stimulate some certain results of technology, we find we lack not only the wisdom of precisely judging or assessing technology itself, but also the ability of correcting the bad results if it has. Here again do we fall into the dilemma. This make it difficult for us to stipulate technology with ethic. From above discussion we can see, the stipulation, no matter from the aspect of technological responsibility or from aspect of the application of technology, has been sure to meet the dilemma. If the conflicts between a hypothesis and experiment cannot be eliminated, we have to rethink the theory and come back again to technology itself and pursue the essence of technology again. Technology is a process from inventing, designing to forming material technological products; is a process from invisible technology to visible technology; is a process potential technology to real-life technology or intellective technology to reallife technology. Technology exists in process. The essential and innate characteristic is it’s process and dynamics. The transition of technological form involves many factors of economic, social, historical, constitutional and cultural. Technological creation of intellectual form is the duty of inventor or technologist. And it is entrepreneur’s job to use the technology or invention, and make them in large quantity, apply them in reality or get economic or other profit. Although there need be interaction, understanding, cooperation, support, coordination among scientist, technologist and enterpriser, they have different responsibility and delimitation. Technology exists in process, no doubt, so does modern technology. This decides that the ethical stipulation of modern technology should be a process stipulation . The essence of modern technological is not only the limitation of subject of technology either not only control the object of technology. It is the ethical stipulation in the unity of subject and object of technological dynamic process. This is basic point of understanding ethical stipulation of modern technology. Responsibility ethics consider that the group responsibility as the premise of technological stipulation .It noticed the static structure of modern technological system, but neglect the dynamic linkage between factors. And it only analysed the special construction, neglected the evolution of system of technological responsibility and the inter relationship between space dimension and time dimension. If we unfold the group responsibility along with the process of technology, we will see the different responsibility belong to different subject in different stage of the process. We can also see that different actors obey different norm or criteria according to their task. In this case, we can distinct the distribution of the group responsibility. Collingridge fixed the effective control on the two points of “before ”and ”after” the process of the technological action, namely, the stipulation for the staring point and stipulation of terminal point. But the whole process was neglected. According to the point of view of process stipulation .it is not the sudden occurrence for technology from “nothing ”to “having”. There are time and space during the process. From middle experiment to industrial experiment, the most characters of the result of technology will have been shown gradually, so will the social results. So we can give the small quantity an ethical evaluation and ethical choice which is possible and feasible. Over all, if we confirm the ethical stipulation of modern technology is a process regulation, we can delimitate the responsibility of the subjects of technology and also settle the prestipulation of the application of technology. At the end, we can eliminate the dilemma of ethical regulation of modern technology.