The Interaction of Ethics and Technology in Historical Perspective

Carl Mitcham*, Adam Briggle

*Corresponding author for this work

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

    9 Citations (Scopus)


    Beginning in the 1500s, the modern period witnessed an emerging transformation in the understanding of ethics, one related to a transformation in science and technology themselves. The scientific understanding of nature came to focus no longer on the natures of different kinds of entities, but on laws that transcend all particulars and kinds. The knowledge thus produced contributed to the transformation of techniques into technology. This transformation denotes a change in scale from small handcrafts to large machines and industrial systems and a shift from animate to inanimate energy sources. This offered a new level of power to control or reorder matter and energy for external ends. These external ends increasingly came to be understood in terms of this-world human autonomy and welfare. Technological science thus became the basis for a progressive technological activity that produced artifacts more systematically and in greater abundance than ever before. With only minor stretching, ethics may be conceived as a technology-like science. Ethics is technical insofar as it involves specialized terminology and includes techniques for the making of human action; it is scientific in the sense of involving systematic reflection and critical analysis. Technical skill was valorized when pursued within such limits and toward worthy goals such as the preservation of life and community. However, the limits were all important, because technical activity can quickly be overextended and create wealth that undermines virtue, change that weakens social stability, and a will to power at odds with natural piety or human flourishing. © 2009

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationPhilosophy of Technology and Engineering Sciences
    Number of pages45
    ISBN (Print)9780444516671
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2009

    Publication series

    NameHandbook of the philosophy of science


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