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The Methodology of Moral Reasoning Nanoethics Lecture I. Roderick T. Long Auburn Dept. of Philosophy. What will nanotechnology bring?. A spectrum of views: extreme predictions, modest predictions, and in between. Extreme predictions: the hype. Immortality! Godlike powers!

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The Methodology of Moral ReasoningNanoethics Lecture I

Roderick T. Long

Auburn Dept. of Philosophy


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What will nanotechnology bring?

A spectrum of views: extreme predictions, modest predictions, and in between


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Extreme predictions: the hype

Immortality!

Godlike powers!

Nanobots inside us curing all diseases!

The ability to build or remold anything, including ourselves, from the atomic level up!


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Extreme predictions: the hype

Or on the gloomier side – out-of-control nanobots devouring the earth!


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Extreme predictions: Drexler and Kurzweil



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More modest predictions

Fancy nanoengineering won’t work!

1. Too sticky

2. Brownian motion

The most we can hope for may be ….


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Modest predictions

somewhat better soap.


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What will nanotechnology bring?

Most nanoscientists think the truth lies somewhere in between …

which is pretty exciting!


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Even on a moderate view, nanotechnology raises issues of ethics

How should we balance public welfare and safety against academic freedom of researchers?

How can we compare the weights of national security, corporate profit, public good, individual rights, environmental impact, and integrity of scientific enterprise?


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Even on a moderate view, nanotechnology raises issues of ethics

How should the benefits of, and/or the control over, nanotechnology be justly distributed?

What are the ethical implications of altering human nature via nanotechnology?


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Thinking About Ethics

Ethics is a branch of philosophy.

What is philosophy?

Subject matter: questions about the ultimate nature of reality, knowledge, & value

Method: dialectic = reflective equilibration


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Three Main Branches of Philosophy

Metaphysics: nature of reality

Epistemology: nature of knowledge

Axiology: nature of value

Branches of axiology: ethics (moral value), aesthetics (artistic value)


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Philosophy

- How different from religion?

- How different from science?


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The Method of Philosophy: Dialectic

Example:

what’s a 7-letter word for a large predator belonging to the cat family?


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The Method of Philosophy: Dialectic

Example:

what’s a 7-letter word for a large predator belonging to the cat family?

PANTHER? LEOPARD?

CHEETAH? LIONESS?


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The Method of Philosophy: Dialectic

What’s a 7-letter word that’s the name of a famous vampire?


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The Method of Philosophy: Dialectic

What’s a 7-letter word that’s the name of a famous vampire?

DRACULA


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The Method of Philosophy: Dialectic

As in a crossword puzzle, so in dialectic, questions we can answer help us with questions we can’t answer.

Consistency.


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What Is Ethics?

Subject-matter: good and bad, right and wrong.

Method: reflective equilibration.

(John Rawls, 1921-2002)


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Reflective Equilibration

Achieving coherence among our beliefs

Balancing general principles against particular cases

Crossword puzzle method

(Susan Haack, b. 1945)


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Reflective Equilibration

Socrates (c. 470-399 BCE) called it dialectic


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The Method of Philosophy: Dialectic

Example from

Plato’s dialogue

Laches, featuring

Socrates (c. 470-399 BCE)


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Socrates vs. Laches:What Is Courage?

1st definition: standing firm in battle


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Socrates vs. Laches:What Is Courage?

1st definition: standing firm in battle

Problem: too narrow


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Socrates vs. Laches:What Is Courage?

2nd definition: willingness to face danger


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Socrates vs. Laches:What Is Courage?

2nd definition: willingness to face danger

Problem: when foolish, not admirable, so not a virtue, so not courageous


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Socrates vs. Laches:What Is Courage?

3rd definition: wise willingness to face danger


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Socrates vs. Laches:What Is Courage?

3rd definition: wise willingness to face danger

Problem: takes more courage to act without wisdom


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The Method of Philosophy: Dialectic

Laches is led to revise uncertain views about the definition of courage by appeal to other views.

DIALECTIC!


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Dialectic in Action:The Debate Over Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism: The right action is whichever action produces the greatest total amount of social benefit (“the greatest happiness of the greatest number”)



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Dialectic in Action: (1806-1873)The Debate Over Utilitarianism

The Organ Donor Case (ODC):

You can save five patients by killing one and redistributing his organs. Should you?


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Dialectic in Action: (1806-1873)The Debate Over Utilitarianism

Anti-Utilitarian argument:

If utilitarianism were true, then in the ODC we should kill.

But surely it would be wrong to kill in the ODC.

So utilitarianism is false.


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Dialectic in Action: (1806-1873)The Debate Over Utilitarianism

Utilitarian argument:

It’s a mistake to assume that utilitarianism says to kill in ODC.

Sometimes better to aim at goal indirectly.


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Dialectic in Action: (1806-1873)The Debate Over Utilitarianism

Francis Bacon (1561-1626):

Experiments of fruit vs. experiments of light

Also: referees


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Dialectic in Action: (1806-1873)The Debate Over Utilitarianism

Utilitarian argument:

Likewise, a general policy of sacrificing few to many would make all of society nervous

Make society better off by committing ourselves to a principle prohibiting such sacrifices


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Dialectic in Action: (1806-1873)The Debate Over Utilitarianism

Anti-Utilitarian argument:

- If commitment is absolute, utilitarianism has been abandoned

- If commitment isn’t absolute, problem isn’t solved

- In any case, gives right answer for wrong reason


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