Imagining worlds: responsible engineering under conditions of epistemic opacity

Mark Coeckelbergh

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

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How must we understand the demand that engineering be morally responsible? Starting from the epistemic aspect of the problem, I distinguish between two approaches to moral responsibility. One ascribes moral responsibility to the self and to others under epistemic conditions of transparency, the other under conditions of opacity. I argue that the first approach is inadequate in the context of contemporary society, technology, and engineering. Between the actions of an engineer and the eventual consequences of her actions lies a complex world of relationships, people, things, time, and space. How adequate is the concept of individual action under these circumstances? Moreover, in a technological society it is hard to sharply distinguish between her contribution and those of others, and between her action and “accident” or “luck”. How, then, can we still act responsibly? I propose that we equip our moral thinking to deal with these new conditions, and argue that imagination can help engineers, researchers, and other stakeholders to reconstruct a world, imagine a history and a future, and imagine consequences for others in distant times and places. I illustrate this by exploring what it means to reconstruct a world of offshore engineering. I conclude that not only engineers but also other stakeholders could benefit from an education of the imagination, and I suggest further transdisciplinary work that contributes to a better understanding of responsible engineering under conditions of epistemic opacity
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhilosophy and engineering : an emerging agenda
EditorsIbo van der Poel, David E. Goldberg
Number of pages361
ISBN (Print)978-90-481-2803-7
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Publication series

NamePhilosophy of engineering and technology


  • IR-76155
  • METIS-309167

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