Technology ethics assessment: Politicising the ‘Socratic approach’

Business Ethics, the Environment and Responsibility (2):454-466 (2023)
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That technologies may raise ethical issues is now widely recognised. The ‘responsible innovation’ literature – as well as, to a lesser extent, the applied ethics and bioethics literature – has responded to the need for ethical reflection on technologies by developing a number of tools and approaches to facilitate such reflection. Some of these instruments consist of lists of questions that people are encouraged to ask about technologies – a methodology known as the ‘Socratic approach’. However, to date, these instruments have often not adequately acknowledged various political impacts of technologies, which are, I suggest, essential to a proper account of the ethical issues they raise. New technologies can make some people richer and some people poorer, empower some and disempower others, have dramatic implications for relationships between different social groups and impact on social understandings and experiences that are central to the lives, and narratives, of denizens of technological societies. The distinctive contribution of this paper, then, is to offer a revised and updated version of the Socratic approach that highlights the political, as well as the more traditionally ethical, issues raised by the development of new technologies.

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Robert Sparrow
Monash University


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