Science, Ethics, and Weapons Research

Science, Ethics, and Weapons Research

John Forge (Independent Researcher, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch279


If it were not for weapons research, there would be no predator drones or smart bombs or improvised explosive devices or assault rifles. The insurgents in the middle east and elsewhere would have no means to fight, and there would be no wars, large or small. The main issue for ethics and weapons research centres on the moral evaluation of this kind of activity: Is it ever morally justified to design the means to kill, harm and destroy, and if so, under precisely what circumstances? Turning to science and its relation to weapons research, the question here, leaving aside ethics for the moment, is the role that science plays in weapons research. Perhaps weapons research is a wholly (applied) scientific endeavour or perhaps science is a part of weapons research.
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A straightforward way to describe ethics is to say that it is a study which deals with what persons ought and ought not to do. It is thus to do with the choices, actions and behaviour of mature competent people. Some of the things that people do do not affect others, other humans, other sentient beings, in any significant way and hence these do not come under the purview of ethics. Those actions that do affect others are, however, open to moral or ethical evaluation: are they right or are they wrong? To resolve that question, one needs to appeal to a moral system. All such systems forbid certain actions, namely those that inflict unjustified harm on others. This is surely intuitive and obvious: no one wants to be harmed. It is almost by definition that no sentient being wants to feel pain - assuming that the pain does not indicate that some medical treatment is working or some such – and to be in pain is one form of being harmed.

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