S&T Ethics 1

1. Introduction

1.1 Self-Introduction

My name is Jan Mehlich, I am from Germany. I’d like to let you know my background in order to convince you that I am qualified to teach this course, but also to give you a chance to understand my thinking and my own “philosophy”. Of course, a course like this includes the elaborations and thoughts of many thinkers and scholars, ancient and contemporary ones, but it will be helpful for you to understand in which way my own thinking is coloured by my experiences and my worldview.

First, I studied Chemistry in Münster, a city in the North-West of Germany. I received a Diploma degree in 2007 and continued with a PhD course, doing research on chemical surface patterning by “microcontact printing”. This is considered a “nanoscientific method”, because it changes the properties of surfaces by forming self-assembled monolayers of organic molecules that are only a few nanometers thick. I finished the PhD course in 2011. At the same university, from 2010 to 2012, I attended a Master course “Applied Ethics”, because I was interested in the ethical and social aspects of my research work. This combination (Nanoscience and Applied Ethics) helped me getting a job in the field of Technology Assessment (TA). TA is a discipline that tries to accompany technological development with reflections on ethical and social implications of progress, so that it is possible to guide it into “the right direction”. The particular project I was in involved in was the application of nanoparticles for medical diagnostics, a part of nanomedicine. We wrote a report to the European Commission who is in charge of making new regulations and laws about new drugs and medical treatment methods. That means, we had a “client” who expected us to write certain things in the report (e.g. that nanomedicine is “good” after all). However, I decided that I want more “academic freedom” and quit that job in order to continue my academic career. I planned to get a position as a postdoc in South Korea and moved there, staying a few months in Buddhist temples. Here, I studied Buddhist philosophy and practiced Buddhist methods (meditation, mindfulness). It turned out that it was very difficult to get a job in Korea, but I found a collaborator in Taiwan, so I moved here in 2014. I got a research grant for a project about “Ethical and social aspects of Taiwan’s National Nanotechnology Initiative”, a cooperation with the Nanoscience Center at Chung Hsing University and the philosophy department of Tunghai University. Here, I could combine all my competences – Nanosciences, Ethics, Technology Assessment, experience with Asian culture (esp. Buddhist philosophy, Confucian society) – in one project. You will hear a lot about this in the next few weeks.

A few words about my German background and how it influences my idea of this course: In Germany, in contrast to Taiwan, there is a big difference between “school” and “university”. A university is not a school, it is a research institution that – besides research – also educates the future generation of academics. The main difference is: the pupils at school have to learn what the teacher tells them to learn, no matter if they are interested in it or not. The students at university are there because they want to study something in a specific field. They are interested and motivated to acquire knowledge in their field of interest. Therefore, I expect all of you to be here because you are interested in it, not because you have to. That means, I expect you to visit these classes with the willingness to learn something, so you will pay attention, ask questions, think about it and read more about it after the lessons. I am not your teacher, I am just the one with more experience and knowledge, and I am here to share that with you. I observed that many students in Taiwan sleep in class. In 13 years of school and 8 years of university in Germany, I have never seen anyone sleeping in class or in a lecture, not a single one! I’d like to ask you not to come here to sleep. If you are tired, please sleep at home or in the library. I want you to be motivated and ready to learn new insights. Then, we will work well together here! Another thing I learned about Taiwanese students is that they don’t like to expose themselves in front of the whole class. Maybe you don’t like to raise your hand and ask a question or admit that you didn’t understand something. I respect that! Therefore, I thought about this: If you want, prepare a card with one green side and one red side. When we start a class, you place it on your desk with the green side on top. When I am too fast or my explanations are not clear, you turn it to the red side. When there are too many red cards, I know I have to slow down or explain it again in an easier way. Then you don’t need to raise your hand and expose yourself, and it helps me to adapt to your level of understanding.

1.2 Science and Technology as part of daily life

What is important in your daily life? When asking like this, you will come up with many things about your preferences and feelings. Therefore, let me better ask, what are you actually doing all day? Under the assumption that what you do is chosen by you – the result of your conscious decisions – we can get a better picture of what is actually and obviously important for you. So, what is the first thing you do in the morning? Brushing teeth, having breakfast, checking the smartphone for new messages, seeing the News? And then? Going out, taking bus or scooter, going to university? Let’s try to sort these things:

First of all, most obviously, you need to be alive. It means, you need to have a roof above your head, clothes to protect from freezing, enough food to eat, a certain degree of health, and no existential threats like meteors, volcanoes and war. You need to live in a safe and clean environment. When that is secure, you want and need social interaction, both in private (family relations, friend networks, etc.) and in public life (interacting with professionals). Also, you want and need material wealth, for example in the form of money. For all of these things, the society established spheres that deal with these interests: agriculture to provide enough food, medicine to deal with diseases, politics that governs social life and – hopefully – enables freedom by setting up a law-and-order system, Wealth is produced by industry, provided in an economic system and facilitated by a monetary system. All of these spheres, however, are connected in one way or the other to technology which itself is fed and enabled by scientific knowledge.

Now, we can distinguish those of your choices that only affect yourself (having only a personal, individual dimension), those that have a legal dimension (governed by a law), and in between those that have an ethical dimension. We are not so much interested in the first. The second will touch our topic only sometimes. We will focus on those issues that arise when interests or viewpoints collide, when conflicts and dilemmas come up, or when new unprecedented cases occur. Generally: When people meet and interact and one’s decisions, choises and actions impact others.


In all these social realms, there are established fields of “applied ethics” that elaborate on principles and codes of conduct for particular situations and as orientation in cases of conflict. Medical ethics developed strategies and approaches for solving problems arising in the field of medicine and healthcare. Bioethics analyses the ethical status of other lifeforms and natural entities, and how we should interact with them. Political ethics, legal ethics and social ethics support the governance of social life. Business ethics elaborates principles of business rules and fair economic relations. Profession ethics provides codes of conduct on how to do one’s job right. Environmental ethics discusses standards of sustainability and our responsibilities for a healthy eco-system. Media ethics as a special form of technology ethics plays a crucial role in our modern knowledge society, in which the availability of information and knowledge (often provided by organs of mass media like TV, radio, internet, etc.) has an ethical dimension. And, finally, there is Science and Technology Ethics (S&T Ethics) that deals with issues in scientific and technological progress and development. Many of these practical ethics disciplines overlap. It is easy to see how S&T Ethics is related to all the other fields of Applied Ethics: Our modern medical and healthcare system is unimaginable without the impact of medical sciences and medical technology. Our interaction with the environment including its lifeforms – matters of bioethics and environmental ethics – is strongly impacted by our use of technology and object of our scientific investigation. Since technology – as we will see – has an undeniable social dimension, it is an issue for politics and governance, –  as such it touches political, legal and social ethics. Since industry (mass-)produces technical artefacts and the economic system is interested in distributing them and gaining profit from them, S&T becomes an issue in business ethics, too. Scientists and engineers and other enactors of S&T progress are professionals that are obliged to comply to the codes of conduct of their profession. New technical possibilities in communication, information and media technology re-shapes the media-ethical discourses to a significant extent.

In order to explain the impact of S&T on our daily life and also the society at large, I’d like to introduce the idea of a “tree of knowledge”:


The roots constitute the sources of all our experiences. Everything we know about the world is constructed by our cognitive equipment: senses, central nervous system, brain. Parts of this system are memory, consciousness, emotions and other psychologically observable and explainable features. In simple terms: we observe, process, think, feel, recall and react. Then, we securely know that we are the centre of the universe. All experiences necessarily are made by us from the self-perspective. Nobody can make experiences for someone else. Same as a thought doesn’t exist beyond its being-thought, experience doesn’t exist beyond its being-experienced. The perception of a self (or an ego) inevitably goes along with the definition of everything else as the other. This illusion of separation creates the idea of world as something external. Within this world-space we experience desires and needs that feed our constant fear of non-existence and ceasing-from-existence. We experience many forms of suffering (in the literal form as pain, in the figurative form as unsatisfactoriness) and yearn for safety and security. This list of basic features is certainly incomplete, but I believe it is sufficiently precise to adumbrate the key point: all humans (as long as not physically or mentally disabled) share these features, and all humans build their decisions, viewpoints and their life on this foundation. Agree?

The trunk is the channel through which we process all these experiences in order to manifest them in our being-in-the-world (using Heidegger’s term). Experiencing is a process (for some scholars even an act) that only works in view of an experience background that is present in the experiencer, an active sense-making. This might be the biggest difference to Descartes’ tree of knowledge: It is illusionary to believe that the act of sense-making for all humans is always only scientific, exploiting knowledge of “the real world” (nature). Since Kant and latest since the convincing insights provided by constructivism, there are many more options. First, we all run on a kind of default setting. If not otherwise reflected or mindfully brought into our conscious awareness, the choices and decisions we make are controlled and determined by the cognitive and behavioural patterns acquired since we are born, under strong influence of our emotions, our education and other previous experiences that I like to summarise as the matrix. In this default setting we tend to be selfish, self-centred, vulnerable, manipulable and susceptible for external powers. Then, there is dogmatism and indoctrination: Someone tells us in one or the other form what certain experiences mean and what we have to conclude from them. In the light form, this includes the parental and institutional education at home and at schools. In the more drastic form we can find that in most religious instances (church), in some political systems, and in parts even in science; in short: in all systems that have anything to do with power of some over others (in the widest possible meaning). There are also more conscious and sceptical ways of sense-making: we can deal with observations and experiences empirically by setting them into perspective with other observations and experiences, we can contest them and refine our understanding of them. The most basic tool for this is logic. An important aspect of these strategies to “construct meaning from experience” is that they are more sustainable and stable the more a person is mindful and free in the choice of options.

In order to understand my choice of branches (here: religion, culture, politics, economy, science, technology) it is important to realise that this model applies for both individual humans and social agglomerations at large. Let me start with the societal level. In current societies, these spheres are the most present ones. Almost all societies developed or adopted institutions of organised religion or at least some kind of spirituality, organise themselves in some form of politics, established systems of production, trade and consumption (economy), started investigating nature and society (science) and invented more or less sophisticated tools that make human life easier (technology). Culture might be an outstanding point here, and some might disagree upon its presence in this set of social spheres. What I mean with it here are all the features and characteristics that serve as the identity-giving connecting fabric of a society: language, art, morals, codes of behaviour, Zeitgeist. Different societies express these branches in different fashions and to various extents, both regionally (an Asian society is different from a European one) and temporally (the Greek society of 500BC differs from the contemporary Greek society). From the historical perspective, some ancient branches disappeared while new ones flourished, others dried out or grew stronger. Let’s take, for example, the German tree: It is a completely secular society, so the religion branch is very small. Germans are – especially in view of their horrible history – convinced of their political system and very “political” in the sense that many topics on the political agenda are discussed – the Politics branch is rather strong. The same can be said for the economy branch, even though it is certainly smaller than the US-American economy branch since German are generally quite sceptical with consumption. Science might be one of the biggest branches: We can only know for sure what we have contested and analysed, including nature, art, religion, etc. Everything must be able to stand a critical investigation, otherwise it is either meaningless or wrong. Technology has shaped the German society quite significantly, but – in analogy to economy – people are sceptical with innovation and rather conservative.

There is an ambivalent correlation between the society as a system and its individual members. Each individual contributes to the characteristics of a society, but it is also society that shapes individuals and sets the margin for their self-expression. A religious society will most likely produce religious members. The process of social change and progress, therefore, is usually very slow. However, what is valid for the society at large is also valid for the individual: Everybody develops all branches in one or the other way and to a certain extent. Remember: these reflections are about “constructing meaning from experience”.

Example 1: Some experiences affect our understanding of features of our surrounding (our world construct): We long to understand nature and the world. Depending on the epistemic channel that a person prefers and applies, answers are found in the branch of religion or in science (This is a descriptive statement! It does not evaluate the legitimacy of choosing religion or science to answer questions about the world fabric adequately! This is done elsewhere.).

Example 2: Experiences concerning the fulfilment of needs can either be manifested in economy (for example as materialsm), in religiously or spiritually motivated modesty, or in scientific explanations of human psyche.

All parts – roots, trunk, branches – are dynamic and subject of change. Some roots grow deeper and stronger when a person puts a focus on certain types of experiences or when outer conditions (for example, the type of job, or the family situation) draw the person’s attention to particular aspects of life. The channels in the trunk are cultivated and expressed to different extents, too. Children mostly follow their default setting, but during youth and adolescence they discover new strategies for constructing meaning. Some become open-minded empiricists, others indoctrinated religious fanatics (just to be sure: there are also open-minded religious people and dogmatic fanatic empiricists). Once a channel is formed and solidified, it is very difficult to change the setting, yet not impossible. Moreover, it is perfectly possible that many branches co-exist peacefully. A scientist can be outspokenly religious by separating the types of knowledge strictly – empiric physical knowledge into the science field, normative spiritual knowledge into the religion field. It would take an enormous amount of active ignorance to claim that “there can only be scientific knowledge” (as done by atheists) or “there can only be religious belief” (as done by religious fanatics).

Science and technology are not only branches in the tree, they also create new channels of meaning-construction through which other branches (like politics, economy, culture) are fed. There is no doubt that these two domains have a massive impact on our lives. Not only does scientific investigation generate empirical knowledge of physical features of the world and of its systems (for example society, environment, human psyche), and not only does technology development create technical artefacts and other products, the scientific and technological ubiquitous mission also influences the way people perceive the world and think of the lifeworld experiences they make. Scientific realism and physical reductionism, but also the vision that everything that one could imagine and desire is technically feasible and “engineerable” – including emotional, abstract or normative entities like love, happiness, politics, etc. – dominates our age. For many years (roughly up to the 1960s in Europe and USA, in Asia still ongoing), positivism was the driving paradigm of modernism: as long as we put sufficient efforts into something, we can achieve everything and will also always be able to correct negative effects into beneficial ones! Just let science and technology do! However, there are also critical voices about scientific and technological progress. See this graphity:


How could it become like that? Science as a threat? People running away from it? Let’s have a look at the history of Science and Technology development and its assessment.

1.3 Arenas of Science and Technology Ethics

A first necessary clarification must be made on the relation between science and technology. The common belief is that science comes first and produces the necessary knowledge that – in the next step – is applied and exploited for the design and engineering of technical artefacts. This view is contested by empirical research on the history of S&T. The steam machine, for example, was developed by craftsmen (James Watt, Thomas Newcomen) who had no background in physics or other sciences. The practical problems and flaws of the steam machine that occurred in the years after its invention triggered a more systematic scientific study of thermodynamics and mechanics. In this respect, we can say, a technological challenge that engineers and craftsmen faced was taken up by scientist in order to help solving it. Technology leaps ahead science in most of the cases. Moreover, undoubtedly, man created artefacts long before the elaboration of a scientific methodology. At first, the common viewpoint was that scientific and technological knowledge describes features of the real world as it is. This is called realism (實在論). Later, the position of instrumentalism (工具主義) was established, stating that technological artefacts can’t facilitate our knowledge about the world but have a mere instrumental purpose.

Then, there was the idea that technological progress is somehow inevitable and unstoppable. Early philosophers of technology formulated the paradigm of technological determinism (技術決定論) according to which technological progress follows predestined courses and shapes society. Common examples (citing Karl Marx) are the windmill bringing about the feudal system and the steam mill inducing the transition to an industrial society. Around the 1960s, this paradigm shifted dramatically. Facilitated by the great system thinkers Niklas Luhmann, Jürgen Habermas, Thomas Kuhn and others, supported by pragmatists (e.g. James Dewey), phenomenologists (e.g. Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger) and the early constructivists (here, especially, Ludwik Fleck, Gregory Bateson, Peter Berger, Thomas Luckmann, Paul Watzlawick, and others), the new predominant model of social constructivism (社會建構主義, in America often termed “constructionism”) draws a picture of society shaping technological progress according to its needs, demands and desires. This fits well with the tree of knowledge idea: In the time after the second world war, people’s fears and concerns (e.g. the threat from nuclear weapons) were no longer satisfyingly soothed by politics or religion, so they sought meaning in technology as major factor to improve the quality of life. Technological artefacts were produced as a response to social needs (for example by economic market thinking and profit prospects), not because “it was possible”. At the same time – in face of nuclear threat and increasing environmental destruction – technological development and its risks and uncertainties moved more and more into the focus of social sciences. Since the deterministic thinking (“There’s nothing we can do about it, anyway!”) was replaced by constructivist thinking (“We can intervene in the construction process!”), there was big optimism that technology governance can influence the risk-benefit balance in favour of the (intended) positive outcome. This was the time that the US government installed the “Office of Technology Assessment” and, a bit later, European countries established similar institutions.

The question at that time (around the 1960s, 70s) looking at the past was: “How could we do Science and Technology without social sciences?!”. 40 years later (which is now) the technology assessors ask themselves “How could we do Science, Technology and Society (STS) studies without Ethics?!”. It was around the 1990s and early 2000s, significantly triggered by the rise of biotechnology and nanotechnology, that many disciplines (the sciences themselves, sociology, politics, philosophy, but also the public) recognised the need for more profound reflection on ethical issues of S&T. The widespread, irrational, but in parts aggressive opposition of the public against genetic engineering surprised the enactors of this S&T field, and left them hamstrung. Great prospects (envisioned by the scientists, medical practitioners, politicians) were juxtaposed with great moral challenges and imagined threats for humankind. The same can be said for nanotechnology, a field in which the major concern arises from “unclear risks” (expecting risks without knowing what the particular risks can be, how strong they impact and who is exposed). The picture of “value-free science” and “neutral technology” had to be given up for good. The challenge of established and unquestioned normative frameworks – and also ways of meaning-construction – by technological progress led to normative uncertainty and gave rise to a call for ethical analysis, since the common tools and reasoning strategies proved inefficient in light of conflict potentials. This is aptly illustrated in a statement by Glenn McGee (in his essay Pragmatic epistemology and the activity of bioethics., in “Pragmatist ethics for a technological culture”, edited by Jozef Keulartz, Michiel Korthals, Maartje Schermer, and Tsjalling Swierstra, Springer, 2002, p.112):

[We] really are only able to, and need to, question our basic assumptions in the moment when we collide with an element of the complexity of our life, a tear in the routine of experience that requires us to rethink things in order that we might progress along our current (or any other alternate) course.

This point brings me – after describing past and presence of S&T assessment – to a future vision: Maybe in 20 or 30 years from now, maybe sooner, maybe later, we will look back at this time and think “How could we assess ethical and social implications of science and technology without psychology?!”. Isn’t the understanding of how we construct meaning a field for psychological research rather than for ethics (or philosophy in general) or social sciences? As far as I can see it, the specific sub-discipline of social psychology is already implemented in STS, but I am thinking of something different. Let me explain with an example from the field of media ethics: It is commonly accepted that ethical issues in media have to be separated into a “producer ethics” (What is ethically acceptable concerning the production and dissemination of media content?) and a “consumer ethics” (What constitutes “ethically acceptable” consumption of media content and usage of media infrastructure?). So far, technology ethics, in this respect, focussed almost exclusively on “producer ethics”, taking “the public”, “the society” or “the citizen” as a grey black-boxed group. Even more, it seems to me that many technology assessors have a “responsible, interested, engaged citizen” in mind when reflecting on public participation in S&T policy. Is that tenable? Isn’t the majority of society members (with variances between different countries, of course) selfish, disinterested, lazy, uninformed, dumb people? Example: A citizen panel providing participation opportunity in decision-making on selecting radioactive waste disposal sites – a topic with presumably big conflict potential – for local citizen attracted 8 (eight!) people (and only with the incentive for getting paid for their participation) in an urban catchment of 200,000 inhabitants in England. Not to speak of the highly anti-intellectual, ill-informed, religiously biased and regressive public policy discourses observed in the USA, a country that is obviously full of fools (how else can it be explained that they elect Donald Trump to be their president?!)! The first “psychological” question is, therefore: What matters to the people and why? Are the experts’ estimations on what matters to the public always realistic and appropriate? However, a second psychological question appears much more important to me: What is the “consumer ethics” of technology? What makes people purchase, use or reject a certain technology (besides sociological answers to this question)? How do people construct meaning from the existence and availability of technological artefacts? Only with this question, for example, would it be possible to perform an assessment of smartphone technology. Imagine what this question would in return mean for the responsibility of technology producers: If it turns out that a technology supports undesirable psychological traits (addiction, emotional coldness, increasing social isolation, aggression, etc.), would it be advisable to refrain from the production and dissemination (which could be driven by profit expectation, knowing that people will buy it)? How paternalistic may S&T development be? Here might be a specific entry point for “Buddhist technology ethics”: Does the development support “suffering” in the sense that it feeds the mind poisons (esp. attachment, or greed), or should it be channelled in a way that it facilitates liberation from it? We will see. Currently, the psychological aspects of social construction of technology are dealt with in the same way that ethical issues have been treated for long: somehow in the background, without granting it the level of expertise that it deserves. It was believed that everybody can do ethics. In the face of intractable conflicts it turned out to be crucial, anyhow, to include professional ethical expertise. Currently, it is the psychological aspects that are given only a marginal importance. “Everybody can do psychology!” – Really? Maybe soon in the future we will include social, environmental and “cognitive” psychologists in our S&T assessments. I would welcome that!


Back to ethics: What is the particular role of Ethics in S&T assessment?


Ethics as a philosophical discipline (moral philosophy) developed a few well-established ethical theories. When applying these principles to general cases, covering possible and actual particular cases, it is called a “top-down approach” of ethics, often preferred by philosophers and ethicists. When starting from particular cases and solving them one by one with suitable theories, we call it “bottom-up approach”, often followed by philosophical laymen like sociologists, scientists or ordinary citizen. Both ways proved to be inefficient for S&T discourse. New forms of technology assessment attempted to include the public in decision-making on S&T development (participatory TA), or to accompany progress from the beginning with studies on ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) (e.g. constructive TA). Commissions on particular S&T topics in the established parliamentary TA institutions involved more and more ethics experts (“ethicists”) besides the technical, political, economic and social experts. A problem of the early years of ethical evaluation of S&T was the “speculative” character of S&T ethics, and the expert-driven, very intellectual-academic top-down approach the experts preferred (from ethical theory down to particular problems). Meanwhile, however, a whole set of useful and valuable methodologies and approaches for the ethical assessment of S&T has been developed (for example by experienced scholars in the field such as Armin Grunwald, Arie Rip, Ortwin Renn, Tsjalling Swierstra, Alfred Nordmann, and others). A middle way between top-down and bottom-up is the strategy to apply ethical principles to particular cases. This is known as “principlism”. The principles are informed and derived from ethical expert knowledge, the cases are brought in by experts and laymen in the affected fields. Again, constructivism and pragmatism had a major impact on the (self-)understanding of ethics in S&T domains: It is only worth the efforts when it comes to practicable, viable, plausible, down-to-earth solutions. The key for the success of it is interdisciplinarity: Scientists and practitioners engage in collaborative discourse with social scientists, ethicists, philosophers and political decision-makers, and sometimes with representatives of the “wider public” (often NGOs, or other affected interest groups). The difficulties that arise from the wide variety of expectations and viewpoints can again be illustrated by the tree of knowledge: All these stakeholders tend to use different channels for meaning-construction. In order to get closer to what Habermas and Apel called ideal discourse – one in which all participants can contribute arguments without any power hierarchies, one in which the best argument wins and not the most popular – it could be useful to reconstruct arguments according to this scheme: How did a discourse participant construct meaning? What is the root (fear? expertise? emotion? selfish greed?)? What is the argumentative channel (inconsiderate default setting? (religious) dogmatism? empirical reason? profit thinking?)?

Let us have a closer look at how we can usefully structure the big field of ethical dimensions of S&T.


We start from the concept of responsibility. Who is held responsible? First of all, the direct enactors of science and technology: scientists, engineers, researchers, practitioners and academic scholars. They have an internal responsibility, which means that they are expected to do their job well. Their professions has certain codes of conduct to follow, an ethos. These are aspects of profession ethics and research ethics, or science ethics. Then they have – together with other stakeholders like industrialists, economists, regulators, politicians or consumers of technology – an external responsibility, which covers those aspects that go beyond their professional realm but touches the society at large and sometimes the environment. Here, questions of business ethics, political ethics, environmental ethics, social ethics and also epistemological aspects are included. The important arena of ethics in this field is assessment of technology, risks and future visions. Responsibility is always “for” something: Here, the S&T enactors are responsible for the scientific knowledge and the technical artefacts they produce. Here you see why I included epistemology (認識論), the question of what can we know and what does it mean to know that. This question has to be answered to understand what it means to hold someone responsible for elaborating “scientific knowledge”. Last but not least, responsibility is always held “in view of someone”: This is, here, the public, the society at large, the environment.

This overview constitutes the content of this course, separated into two parts. Part 1 will cover the aspects of internal responsibility: How do scientists do their job well, and why should they? Part 2 will address the field of external responsibility: How do S&T impact the society and the environment, and how can that be assessed with ethical reflection?

1.4 Course organisation

My lesson plan for the next weeks is this:

Part 1:

Feb.21st – Research Methodology (What do Scientists know? From Epistemology to Ethics.)

March 7th – Good scientific practice (Virtue Ethics for Scientists, Scientific Misconduct)

March 14th – a) Ethics of Publishing; b) Mentorship; c) Conflict of interests, academic freedom

March 21st – Safety and Risk in scientific research

March 28th – Experiments with Humans and Animals

April 11th – Midterm exam: Ethical aspects of scientific practice and researchers‘ responsibilities

Part 2:

April 18th – What is sustainability?

April 25th – Technological Progress

May 2nd – Responsibility

May 9th – Approaches in Technology Ethics

May 16th – Risk Ethics, Precautionary Principles

May 23rd – Argumentative Patterns

June 6th – Case study 1: Bio- and Nanotechnology

June 13th – Case study 2: Nuclear Energy

June 20th – Final Exam: Technology Ethics

Please don’t be scared by writing two exams! It will be easier for you since the two parts are thematically separated. In the exams, I will ask knowledge questions that you can answer when you come to the classes, pay attention, and read this script, and questions in which I will ask you to write a statement on a case. Here, I’d like to advise you to practice that (I will give you opportunities for that). What I want to see from you is the ability to make an argument that is consistent, well-reasoned, and based on available knowledge and reasoning strategies. If you do that for the first time in the exam, it will be very difficult for you! Better try that at home with some example cases that I will give you. I also offer to check that for you, if you want.

The course objectives – what I hope you will learn in this course – are:

  • Contemporary Issues in Science Ethics
  • Applying Ethics to “Scientific Practice” and “Technology Assessment”
  • Learning concepts of “responsibility” in S&T
  • Understanding the ethical and epistemological dimensions of “(Social) Constructivism”
  • Acquiring skills for ethical discourse!

The last point is the most important! You will have jobs in the future in which your opinion counts. You might get into situations in which you have to argue with your boss. It will be important to be able to build your argument onto reasonable and rational foundations, because only then will  it beat the hierarchical power of your boss’s argument!

I did not assign particular books that you have to buy to use them in this course. I think, students are poor enough, they shouldn’t be forced to buy expensive books. I will provide this script, which should be sufficient for recapitulating the lessons. However, if you are interested in this topic and wish to learn more, here are a few suggestions (there are more in the course syllabus online).

For scientists, I recommend this book that is a great compendium of research methodology! It will be a great help to improve your scientific and research skills:

  • P.Pruzan, Research Methodology. The Aims, Practices and Ethics of Science, Springer, Switzerland, 2016

Then there are two books for the first part on science and research ethics that cover a wide range of topics with many many cases as examples:

  • F.L.Macrina, Scientific Integrity: An Introductory Text with Cases, 4th edition, American Society for Microbiology Press, Washington, 2014
  • E.Shamoo, D. B. Resnik, Responsible Conduct of Research, 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2015

For the field of technology assessment and ethics, I recommend these three books:

  • F.Lucivero, Ethical Assessment of Emerging Technologies, Springer, Heidelberg, 2016
  • A.Grunwald, Responsible Nanobiotechnology – Philosophy and Ethics, CRC Press, 2012
  • J.K. Berg Olsen, S.A. Pedersen and V.F. Hendricks (eds.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009


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