Democratic Theory and Technological Society

By Richard B. Day; Ronald Beiner et al. | Go to book overview

LIBERAL DEMOCRACY AND THE PROBLEM OF TECHNOLOGY

Jerry Weinberger

For the most part, it seems, liberal democratic theory has had little to say about the "problem of technology." This is not to say that liberals have not been concerned with the moral and political problems generated by advancing technology. Indeed, in American universities whole new academic specialties have arisen to treat the ethical dilemmas generated by technological advances and by the increasingly technical orientation of business, industry, and medicine. Today's philosophy Ph.D.s can look forward to gainful employment as advisors to corporate boardrooms and as practising "bioethicists." But to these new specialties there is no problem of technology that cannot be confronted with the language and concepts familiar to the liberal view of the world: technology presents a problem because it poses new questions of individual rights, such as the right to privacy, the right to life, the right to free choice over one's reproductive functions, and so forth. For liberals technology is a danger, to be sure - one threatening humanity itself if one considers the nuclear peril and the degradation of the environment. But it is a danger posed somehow from without; that is, it is conceived as the unintended consequences or "externalities" of the well- meant and legitimate pursuit of happiness and security, or as a friendly but rambunctious genie released from the atom or from nature in general. It seems that technology in no way forces liberals to rethink their views of liberty, freedom, politics and society, let alone to wonder if these views are themselves somehow technological. For instance, neither of the two most influential recent accounts of liberal justice, Rawls' A Theory of Justice and Nozick Anarchy, State, and Utopia, has anything to say about technology.

But to see technology as "just another problem," as by no means fundamental, is to miss its obvious character as a horizon within which every other problem comes to light. For the possibilities of technology constitute not

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