Democratic Theory and Technological Society

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

ETHICS AND TECHNOLOGY: HANS JONAS' THEORY OF RESPONSIBILITY

Ronald Beiner

Biblical wisdom and ancient thought provided, in the American past, a language for those who were discontented with the terms, as well as the practices, of the dominant liberal tradition. That genuine counter-culture recognizes the multi-dimensionality of the human soul, and among its first principles is the proposition that there are limits to what human beings can and should attempt to do.1

George Grant, in his essay English-Speaking Justice, remarks that American Protestantism, while less congenial to modernity than the Calvinism that preceded it, possessed less intellectual force than the latter and therefore "its direct practical effect on the control of technology (the central political question) is generally minimal."2 What is surely most striking in this passage is the statement that the control of technology is the supreme political question of our epoch. Today, it appears, we are all at least in agreement (whatever our other political disagreements) that political progress is premised upon higher technological achievements. Whether we seek to maximize the growth potential of unfettered capitalism, or to redistribute the resources of society to the welfare of the needy; whether we seek to promote the new high-tech industries on behalf of the already well- off, or to siphon off the surplus riches of these industries for the benefit of "the least advantaged," we can all at least agree in assuming that technology is the indispensable condition of realizing our political goals, whatever they may be. It therefore comes as a surprise indeed to be told that the limitation of technology is an object of political deliberation at all, let alone being situated at the top of the agenda.

What are the ethical and political implications of modern technology? Is it the case that our technological enterprises today "are having an impact on the total dispensation of things," that "willy-nilly we are embarking on

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