Technoethics: The Dilemma of Doing the Right Moral Thing in Technology Applications

Technoethics: The Dilemma of Doing the Right Moral Thing in Technology Applications

Peter B. Heller (Manhattan College, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/jte.2012010102
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Technoethics relates to the impact of ethics in technology, technological change, and technological advances and their applications. This is true both in established fields such as bioethics or computer ethics or engineering ethics but also in new areas of research such as neuroethics. As pioneering breakthroughs are made in, say, extending life or robotization, novel questions arise regarding the rightness or wrongness of keeping terminal cases alive even at the expense of such trade-offs as making life possible for premature or defective babies in the first case or replacing workers in the second. Some of these agonizing dilemmas are treated in the paper highlighting the ambivalence and difficulty – and corresponding controversy – in reaching ethical decisions in technological applications.
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The term “technology” (or its abbreviated prefix “techno”) can be defined in a variety of ways. An acceptable one is that it is a systematic knowledge and applications that can describe any recurrent activity closely related to science and engineering and viewed as providing the means of doing useful work. Technology may be embodied in a physical reality or in a method, technique, or know-how.

“Ethics” may be defined as a code or set of principles by which people live. Ethics is about what is considered to be morally right and wrong. When people make ethical judgments, they are voicing prescriptive or normative statements about what ought to be done, about moral duty and obligation, not descriptive statements about what is being done.

Thus, individuals face ethical dilemmas in various real-life situations as discussed below; they tend to make judgments about what is right and what is wrong. There may be differences in viewpoints because individuals find it hard to explain the rationale behind their subjective or moral judgments. It is often difficult to conclude what ought to be the most appropriate behavior. Ethical theory, then, or moral philosophy, is the study of the rules or principles that lie behind moral decisions, a rationale for moral judgment. The latter enables one to defend or oppose a particular position on a given issue. Thus, the use of ethical theory can help users, even to the point of determining how people ought to behave in various applications of technology. Accordingly, technoethics is that interdisciplinary area which tries to determine an appropriate viewpoint or attitude or philosophy in the application of technology to real-life situations.

Among several ethical theories, the ones most relevant to technological applications are consequentialism, deontologism, and utilitarianism. Consequentialism has it that an action is right or wrong depending upon its consequences, its outcomes, such as its effects on society. Thus, those who believe in consequentialism will support any action or the use of a product if, in their opinion, outcomes have been made according to some defined criterion or trade-offs. Deontologism, in contrast, stresses the intrinsic character of an act and disregards motives or consequences. In this view, some actions are right or wrong in themselves, either inherently or on the basis of the originator’s intention regardless of the circumstances or outcomes that are brought about. Utilitarianism argues that everything in life is done to create happiness. Since this is the ultimate goal of humans, all actions must be assessed according to whether they increase or decrease human happiness, the feeling of well-being, of euphoria.

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