Disruptive Innovation and Moral Uncertainty

NanoEthics 14 (3):259-269 (2020)
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Abstract

This paper develops a philosophical account of moral disruption. According to Robert Baker, moral disruption is a process in which technological innovations undermine established moral norms without clearly leading to a new set of norms. Here I analyze this process in terms of moral uncertainty, formulating a philosophical account with two variants. On the harm account, such uncertainty is always harmful because it blocks our knowledge of our own and others’ moral obligations. On the qualified harm account, there is no harm in cases where moral uncertainty is related to innovation that is “for the best” in historical perspective or where uncertainty is the expression of a deliberative virtue. The two accounts are compared by applying them to Baker’s historical case of the introduction of mechanical ventilation and organ transplantation technologies, as well as the present-day case of mass data practices in the health domain.

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Philip J. Nickel
Eindhoven University of Technology

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