The Ethics of Technology


Whether it’s the sublime of planetary science or the mundane act of changing gear while driving your car, technology is present in our everyday lives. It is the power to intervene in our physical environment and make things better, and it’s what the term means when we talk about a designed, material means to an end.

Technological change is an important driver of history, transforming the nature of human society. It has led to such large-scale changes as the urbanization of society, the massive growth in economic interdependence between communities around the world and the dramatic rise in population. And smaller changes, from bows and arrows to gunpowder to the microprocessor, have transformed what it means to be human in all sorts of ways.

The way we think about technology is shaped by two “sharply diverging traditions.” On the one hand, some people, including some of our best historical figures (Aristotle, Hugh of St Victor, Johann Beckmann, Talcott Parsons and others) have focused on instrumental approaches, focusing on means rather than ends, portraying technology as a narrow technical rationality that leaves no room for creativity or values.

On the other hand, many people see technology as a powerful force that should be exploited for its positive potential, allowing us to do more with less, empowering individuals to create new businesses and build their own futures, and giving us the ability to control our environments in ways we never could before. But even as technological change opens up new possibilities, it also raises a host of ethical questions.