The ethics of technology:  technological worldview,  pictures, motives values and norms


by prof. Dr. Egbert Schuurman*

Professor, Department of Christian Philosophy, Technological Universities of Delft and Eindhoven and the Agricultural University of Wageningen



1.                  Introduction


2.         Ethics of technology is necessary

2.1             New situation:  Technological Culture

2.2.           Advantages

2.3.           The shadowy side:  problems and threats

2.4             Vulnerable technology

2.5             Power over technical power


3.         What is ethics?


4.            Spiritual-historical background


5.           The technological worldview


6.            Current ethical recipe  (motives, values and norms)


7.         The cosmological and ethical deficit


8.            Enlightenment of the 'Enlightenment": "In your light we see light"


9.            Revoking the cosmological and ethical deficit


10.       A renewed cultural picture


11.          Ethics of responsibility: Revoking the ethical deficit

11.1            Renewing of motives

11.1.1                  Science: growth in wisdom

11.1.2      Technology in the service of individual and societal life: technology as prosthesis

11.2    Other values (ecological, technological and social)

11.3         Integral framework of norms:  Simultaneous and plural application


12.            Consequences of reorientation for technology

12.1            Priorities

12.2            Ecological, social or culturally adjusted technologies

12.3            Ecological agriculture

12.4            Genetic manipulation

12.5            Alternative energy. sustainable energy and dematerialization

12.6            Dilemmas


13.            Political consequences


14.             Struggle


1. Introduction


The current techno-economic development has already realized many promises and offers many promises for the future.  People can, however be blinded by this development, preventing them to appreciate the seriousness of its potential disastrous effects.  I suspect that this results from an uncritical attitude toward technology.  But it is my conviction that it will progressively become clear that the most central problem is constituted by the stance towards or the view of technological development in our culture.  Technology, in more than one important way, contributes to the quality of life, is a statement frequently heard.  But it is rarely said that the opposite could also be true.  What is our attitude toward technology that, on the one hand, identifies with the world but on the other hand, alienates us from the world?  This, in short, is the problem of modern technology.  Furthermore, it internally generates the necessary questions.  Thus ethics is very necessary. Technology is the product of the Judeo-Christian tradition.  Does this tradition say anything about the essential ethics of technology?


2. Ethics of technology is necessary


2.1 New situation:  Technological Culture


The necessity of an ethics of technology is not self-evident to everybody and therefore explanation is required.


Traditional handcraft  technology or artisanry was especially characterized by an inter-human relationship, it was surveyable, its effect was only noticeable in the short term, with negative impacts small and predictable.  Furthermore, this technology did not put its stamp on culture, it was a sector of it.  Whereas the handcraft technology was imbedded in the natural order, modern technology has created an artificial 'world' around us.


In comparison with, for example a century back, we are in a completely new situation.  The modern, science-drenched technology has unfolded enormously, has left its imprint on culture and has become a world encompassing system.  In modern technology everything is connected to everything else and thus constitutes the technical milieu.  Think away technology and our whole culture collapses.  Especially the connection between technology and economic enterprises developed at a tremendous rate.  It means that modern technology and economy are so tightly interwoven that the two have virtually become one flesh.  We could say that the one cannot exist without the other; that they live as siamese twins.


Therefore, although I request attention for the ethics of technology, the ethics of economics cannot be separated from it.  As we will see, they are connected by an extreme technical mentality or spirit which generates problems in the ethics of both.  This has to be explained.


Uncertainty about the technical-economical unfolding is due to the fact that we do not have any experience of this development.  We have been unable to learn from the past, whilst such lessons would have been extremely useful, given the problems that we face.  Lack of experience, stupidity and ignorance of ways of solving new problems create tension in an ethics of technology. Specialization and connection to existing developments add to the urgency of the situation.  Technology has penetrated our individual lives to such an extent that we can scarcely create the distance which is necessary to evaluate it, not to  speak of changing its direction.


2.2 Advantages


He who compares our times with a few centuries back notices the great advantages of modern technology.  The average lifespan has been increased.  Sewage and water purification lead to a healthier environment.  Mechanizing, automation and robotization have relieved humans from hard manual and routine labour.  The material wealth is unprecedented.  We thankfully make use of many medical techniques that heal diseases.  The hunger of many has been stilled.  The modern means of communication supply us with ample information.  Briefly, the possibility to form reality according to our whishes has increased enormously.


Small wonder that the trumpets of praise have been blown for technology.  "The wonders of technology", "The age of technology", "the triumph of technology", were the titles of books and of slogans some thirty years ago that extolled the abundant blessings of technology.  The world picture is determined by the possibilities of technology itself.  In other words, technology itself increasingly becomes the guidance for technological development.  Everything that is possible is being applied.


2.3  The shadowy side:  problems and threats


In the present culture the shadowy sides of the scientific-technological development becomes clearer.  The technological control motive penetrates and directs the culture.  It permeates many, if not all, aspects of society and infiltrates the human experiential world as an matter of course.  Culture is thereby conveniently reduced to that which technology, science and economy can offer.


Not only is man threatened by overrating technology and the economy, but nature is also exploited and human society disintegrates.  There is talk of threats from nuclear  weapons or radioactive waste from nuclear power plants, of the exhaustion of natural resources, of the extinction of many plant and animal species, deforestation, siltation and desertification - with loss of food and rich soils - the depletion of the ozone layer, the emission of exhaust gases with far-reaching consequences for life and climate, the rapid and large-scale destruction and pollution of nature, and the accelerating threat of the over-estimation of genetic manipulation techniques, with as offshoot the technical possibility the cloning and genetic manipulation of humans, etc. Finally the latest information and communication techniques suggest ample information and communication.  But in reality there is less face-to-face contact between people leading to mutual alienation, loneliness and social disintegration. 


Western man has, with the passage of time, subjected himself to limitless technical manipulation and economic exploitation of reality, but with a massive threat of the destruction of the very basis of human existence.  The current technological development threatens the sustainability of the natural environment and of the biosphere.  The relevant values are simply ignored.


2.4  Vulnerable technology


The technical development also experiences threats from within.  Large-scale technical developments regularly prove to be vulnerable as a result of human error or as a result of bad technical functioning, and confront us with far-reaching consequences.  Examples are, inter alia, Chernobil, the chemical disaster in Bhopal, the 'I love you' virus, etc.


2.5   Power over technical power


While man was formerly especially threatened by nature he now also has to face the threat of technology.  Through technology man attempts to gain control over everything.  The pressing question, however, is: how can  we continue to control technology?  How can we contain and control technical power?  That is an ethical question par excellence.


3.  What is ethics?


There are many definitions of 'ethics'.  Luckily they partially overlap one another resulting in a large measure of agreement despite the differences.  In ethics as a science there is reflection on the good and responsible actions of man.  An ethics of technology must therefore concern itself with man's good and responsible conduct in and through technology, i.e. man must fulfil the normative aspects of reality within which technology functions.


Who is man and what constitutes good and accountable actions?  Reactions to the answers to these questions as well as to the question concerning the place of technology in the whole of reality, diverge easily.  That concerns the basis of an ethics.  It has to do with differences in philosophical vision and with the background differences in philosophies of life and world views.  These differences currently aggravate the task concerning ethics because there is no unity of vision of man, history, the meaning of technology, culture and the future.  While a common value and norm conception is required we are confronted by a divergent pluralism.  But is it, notwithstanding these differences, possible to discern a main theme present in the spiritual background?


It seems fit to make a small excuris to the so-called empirical turn in philosophy of technology (see Peter Kroes & Anthonie Meijers (eds).  The Empirical Turn in the Philosophy of Technology, vol. 20, Research in Philosophy of Technology, Jai Press, Amsterdam, 2000).  This turn rightfully distanced itself from an autonomous, threatening, development of technology.  The technological reality is more complicated.  However, the proponents of the empirical turn divorce 'cases' from the whole of technical development.  They scarcely pay attention to a structural development of technology or the positioning of technology in the whole of reality.  'Cases' in other words, do not stand alone.  There is coherence in technological development and also coherence in ethical problems, though this coherence may attain a special colour in certain instances.  In fact, the diversity of technology requires attention.  The ethical problems are not equally pressing everywhere.  In the reformational-philosophical analysis of the structure of technology, justice has always been done to the variety.  The idea of the autonomy of technology as a massive and unassailable phenomenon in which there is no place for responsibility has been broken.  Technology takes place in a historical, cultural, social and political context and different groups busy themselves with different interests and goals in these frameworks.  They each have an influence on the development of technology, but they cannot distance themselves from the continuity in the development.  The possibility that they are all controlled by the same spiritual-historical background, which constitutes an important cause of ethical problems, must not be ruled out.  The philosophers of the empirical turn back out of the matter easily by pretending the cases to be free-standing occurrences.  People seek solutions for individual cases, referred to as 'the end of the pipe-line approach'.  By treating symptoms, people displace the problems and no attention is given to the common root of all the problems.  Viewed ethically, they are stuck with their solutions in the 'labyrinth of technology' (Vandenburg).


Only when we view technological development as a whole are the individual developments - the cases -  afforded their own specific places.  To my mind both the predominant ethical background, the basic structure, and the individuality of the technological occurrences have to be regarded.  Orientation towards one of the poles detracts from the other.  Empiricists have through one-sided attention to individual problems (the tree) lost sight of the tendency in technological development in total (the forest).  An analysis of the agents which influence the technological development ignores deeper operating common motives. This results in superficiality, fragmentation and little coherence.  Profoundness is obtained for the cases by viewing them as interconnected, to connect then with motives, values and norms, and not to join them to a description of what man has actually done.  In a philosophical -ethical reflection the ethics of specific technological phenomena is not of prime concern, but rather an encompassing approach via motives, values and norms which will form the basis for the subsequent judging of specific technologies.  We frequently cite examples from empiricism without paying attention to structural roots and backgrounds.  Moreover, specialism provides the possibility to know more and more of less and less.  This has made us vulnerable in our adjudication of the whole situation.  In other words, attention to isolated technological phenomena can distract  from the main point, namely the ethical question regarding a cultural transformation within which technology can be afforded a place and appreciation that differs from what is current.


4. Spiritual-historical background


In a discussion of the problems and threats of the Technological Era, people restrict themselves to the symptoms. An in-depth discussion is necessary in order to include deep-seated and long-standing causes.


I have shown in miscellaneous publications - with reference to reputable philosophers, that, under the influence of the Renaissance and in particular the Enlightenment, modern philosophy and modern thinking became increasingly a scientific-technological mentality.  Man as ' lord and master' - a term used by Descartes, the father of modern philosophy  - articulates technological rationality by which the natural sciences and the technical sciences are used as instruments under the pretension that everything can be manipulated in order to solve problems - both old and new - relating to man and culture. It was especially the ideas of Frances Bacon that kept alive the utopia which promised a return to the lost paradise by means of scientific-technological advance.


The technological control mentality originates in man's pretence of being autonomous.  He desires to strengthen his freedom by means of scientific-technological command.  All problems are considered to be solvable by this mentality.  In a sense only those problems are recognized that can be solved through science and technology.  All questions relating to spiritual reflection and religious problems are ruled out.  The technological culture therefore is accompanied by secularization, with spiritual emptiness on a scale previously unheard of.  We could say that, behind the mask of modern technology and of autonomous freedom, a spiritual emptiness hides.  The situation is made more serious by the fact that this is not recognized.  The result is that culture is wholly saturated by technological way of thinking or the technological mentality.  Society is experiencing it's influence in many sectors.  The whole complex of science, technology and economy is being influenced by an over-excited technological spirit.


This causes problems.  Let me provide two examples:  In biotechnology, justice is mostly not done to life in advance.  The technological model of life disregards life.  Small wonder that genetic manipulation has to deal with so many problems.  Another actual example: sometimes people think that the danger of the Internet is the so-called pollution of information and that the ethical problems can be solved by a 'clean' net.  Yet, here also certain technological thought processes force behavioral pattern which reduce the fullness of life.  The thought pattern built into computers influences the uncritical user.  He will increasingly use the same mental patterns.  When man is occupied with technology day in and day out, it will eventually conquer his heart.  Therefore, also spiritually, man is becoming more technological, making him deaf and insensitive to other dimensions.  Thus: more information, less meaning; more interactions, less contact; more information, less wisdom and depth.  In other words, more communication, less spirituality.  The overuse of material technology isolates man spiritually.  Stated once more: the advance of the technological mentality is in our time leading to growing secularization.

5. The technological worldview


As a result of the absolutization of technological thought much of reality is lost.  That which does not fit into the technological model, is disregarded or forgotten.  The worldview has been transformed to a technological worldview by this development.  Similar to the technological development, this worldview is not static.  To the contrary, each new technological development  -- e.g. those resulting from discoveries and innovations - make the worldview dynamic and easier adaptable.  The technological worldview is therefore continually changed by technological development.  It is however a human construct and functions as a cultural paradigm.  It is a type of framework within which people think and act.  It has normative meaning.  Motives, values and norms are derived from it.  It therefore also forms an ethical framework.  That which can be scientifically known and made technologically is, as it were, the veracious reality.  It has increasingly marked the development of western culture and it is also marking the current globalization.


The worldview is therefore derived from the technological development and has, out of reach of technology, through technological thought, far-reaching influence even to the extent that not only the relation to nature and the milieu, but also human society is stamped or coloured.  It strives to command or control technologically both nature and society.  The technological - economical powers are especially the driving forces and simultaneously they breathe the air of this technological mentality.


Actually, the worldview is scientific-technological.  It displays the characteristics of abstract science, regarding its functionality, universality and rationality.  As such it operates reductionistically and nivellating and sometimes its influence is even destructive.  This applies to both nature and the milieu (ecosystem and biosphere) as well as society.  The ecological crisis receives ample attention, but its parallel in societal problems receives much less.


6.  Current ethical recipe  (motives, values and norms)


The technological worldview not only causes specific problems, but is mostly also decisive for the ethical solutions sought.  By means of the technological worldview there is coherence in the current approach.  Ethics  finds difficulty in freeing itself from the technological system.  The current recipe for the treatment of technological problems amounts to attempts to investigate 'cases' in order to develop rules of thumb for the future.  Man seldom goes back to the roots of the problem and to the connection between problems.  This results in the frequent trading of one problem for another, because people are caught in a type of technological labyrinth.  The current ethics of technology prevents them from taking risks by acting in a controlled and cautious way.  I have once called this the technological ethics.  Ethics becomes a technique because people attempt to streamline and guide technological development.  A  'technological control perspective' then dominates the ethics of technology.  People limit themselves to unfavorable symptoms of an otherwise boundless developing scientific-technological control.  The problems in technological development is somewhat softened by this ethics.  In a certain sense this state of affairs confirms - following Habermas - what can be termed the ideology of technology.  The ideology, inspired by the Enlightenment, implicates viewpoint-restricting limitations.  Fundamental or essential questions are excluded, for instance questions concerning the background to technological development, questions regarding the origin, meaning, motives, values and norms for technology.  I would like to call this partial nihilism. 


Changes in the development, the search for alternatives or even rejection are rarely accounted.  In a certain sense people are entangled in technology, which they try to untangle without providing a well-founded direction.  This imprisonment or adjustment is reinforced by ICT.  In the process of adjustment it becomes increasingly difficult to adopt a specific vision of reality, from a certain picture of reality, entailing other motives, values and norms. The technological or industrial and the post-industrial society are permeated with strong technological values, attitudes and ways of thinking.


The main motive in this fundamental ethical attitude is that of striving for power over reality.  This power has the pursuance of technical artificiality as its dominating value.


The concomitant implicit values are those of being lord and master of man, the human passion for control, technological advancement, the (economic) self-interest and, in coherence herewith, growing consumption as added-value: that is to say, benefit for all.  No attention is given to the ecological and social context values.  At most it subsequently receives political attention.


The norms that follow from the values of the technological worldview are effectiveness, normalization or standardization, efficiency, success, maximum profit, with no or insufficient attention given to the cost to humanity, society and the environment.


We continually encounter more problems in which the technological worldview and its befitting ethics fail us.  This is clear from problems concerned with sustainability.  Sustainability aims to comply with the requirements of the present generation, without possibly jeopardizing the ability of coming generations to fulfill their needs.  Why is sustainability under pressure?


The commanding technological worldview dominates the current economy via a control model, which from the start, forces one-sided growth.  In this development sustainability cannot be reached.  In the context of environmental problems we may advance one step by means of environmental technology, but this step is nullified in subsequent development because the step is taken within the framework of a materialistic economy.  The technological worldview also prevents abatement of the growing concern over climatic change.  Our way of dealing with creation is preventing the gaining of a new perspective within which these problems can be lessened.


Werner Heisenberg has drawn an impressive picture of this situation. "With the seeming limitless expansion of material power man has arrived in a situation of a captain whose ship was so well constructed from steel and iron that the needle of his compass reacted only on the iron mass of the ship and no longer pointed to the North.  With such a ship the correct direction can no longer be established, it simply circles around or is at the mercy of wind and currents" (Werner Heisenberg, Das Naturbild der Heutigen Physik, rde 8, p.22).  We have abandoned our culture in favour of this lack of orientation.  Man undoubtedly has received power, but the threatening devastation increases.  Technological advancement per se can turn itself against man and his environment.  This threatening frequently hides behind the desired superiority of technological effectiveness and economic efficiency. The ethical reduction contained therein is scarcely recognized.


We saw that the current cultural view is fed by a technological expectation of salvation and is mentally and spiritually oriented to technology itself.  In addition real questions or a quest for meaning are excluded and reality becomes a reality to be controlled.  A clue is the picture of a continuously self-empowering technological construction in which reality is not real but has a merely instrumental value.  Thus plants and animals are largely seen in the light of their material benefit to humans through science and technology.  Even man himself is increasingly seen as 'makeable'.  In addition, the needle of the compass - to return to that picture once more - points only to man and his technology.  Technological man appears to be the last point of orientation.


7. The cosmological and ethical deficit


I have just said that the current view of life is fed by the spirit of the Enlightenment.  This undoubtedly has given us much benefit, but also much evil.  Put very generally, I would like to say that the current approach to technology, in my view, suffers from a cosmological deficit and an ethical deficit.  Reality is frequently reduced to a scientific-technological controllable reality.  That amounts to a positivistic cosmology or a techno-cosmology.  In this one-sidedness too little justice is done to the many-sidedness of full reality and to its dependability on and its involvement with the divine Origin, therefore on its fullness, wholeness, coherence and its transcendental dependence.


Apart from a cosmological shortfall we also have to face an ethical deficit.  Reality around man is seen as made of things converted to objects of manipulation.  The technological mode of thought reduces everything to the status of an useful object.  The inherent value and meaning thereof is emptied in the benefit that man can derive from reality.  This ethical deficits is best characterized as the ethical deficit of love, because justice is not done to the inherent nature of things.  It is clear that, in out time, our involvement with animals is determined by the technological model.


8. Enlightenment of the 'Enlightenment": "In your light we see light"


In general, as has been discussed, silence is being maintained on the deepest background of the current technological culture and on the present ethics of technology.  However, the motive of the Enlightenment is still dominant.  Therefore, when people criticize the Technological Culture the Enlightenment cannot be ignored.  What does that lead to?


If it is true that the crisis of the Technological Culture resides in man's scientific-technological involvement with nature, this crisis also points to a crisis in the autonomy postulate of the 'Aufklärung'.  It increasingly becomes clearer that the culture cannot maintain absolute freedom and absolute controlling power.  In a sense a religious substance is required.


The question as to the nature of the 'Aufklärung' was answered by the great philosopher Immanuel Kant.  Man has come of age and will not accept any guidance from above himself.  "Have the courage to avail yourself of your own intellect".  Here Kant did not have in mind growth of knowledge or a spontaneous will to be free, but the courageous decision to control praxis by means of scientific knowledge.  Man's reason is accepted as controlling instrument.  This means that man wishes to re-create the world according to his will by means of science and technology.  The rational belief of the Enlightenment connects itself via technology with happiness and freedom , with optimism, progress and benefit.  It closes its eyes for possible ill effects.


In many current cultural-philosophical critiques the shortcomings of the 'Aufklärung' are pointed out.  Increasingly people are is convinced that this instrumental rationality has, or will have, devastating results.  Technology is no longer the liberator in itself, but is absorbed into the power over man and nature.  As such it binds man, destroys nature and threatens culture.  This is why many are reconsidering the meaning of the Enlightenment without, however, relinquishing its point of departure.  In order to try and parry the critique on technology people try to supplement the meaning of 'Aufklärung'.  People require elucidation of the Enlightenment - for example Adorno and Habermas.  Others, for instance Hastedt, wish for the completion of the project of the 'Aufklärung'.  The project of the 'Aufklärung' required a new ecological ethics and an ethics for the management of systems technology. However, the project of the 'Aufklärung' does not abandon the autonomy of scientific-technological man, but intends to expand the ratio to a fuller or broader, multi-sided rationality with increased scope.  Even if people desire a second Enlightenment in which attention is given to metaphysical and spiritual questions that have been ignored in due course, they loyally maintain the Enlightenment's point of departure.


In the Reformational Philosophy we have a tradition of fundamental criticism of the Enlightenment as a result of the pretension of human autonomy.  Although we cannot reverse the Enlightenment we will have to acknowledge its devastating action and to ethically re-schematize its positive results.  Can the cosmological and ethical deficit be revoked?  This will require an approach different from current thinking.  I would like to make an appeal for an Enlightenment of the Enlightenment.  Or, to put it in biblical terms:  "In your light we see light" (Ps. 36:9).  The 'Aufklärung' must itself be lighted up by the divine light of the Revelation.  That is a way to follow between the technological paradise and the technological apocalypse.  To again refer to Heisenberg's metaphor of the ship, if the captain desires to sail in the right direction once more, he will have to orientate himself by using the stars.  Thus the Technological Culture will again have to be considered with reference to viewpoints from outside technology. 


9.  Revoking the cosmological and ethical deficit


It will become clear that we hold the opinion that the cosmological and the ethical deficits resulting from a reductionistic scientific approach to reality, cannot be resolved by another, for instance expanding scientific approach.  However much systems thinking is presented as a holistic approach, and while there is appreciation for its merits, it remains an abstract scientific approach from an anthropocentric position.  A widening of more dimensions, - therefore, a more comprehensive holistic approach - is necessary.  The whole of reality has to be recognized as given reality preceding science.  This reality does not rely on itself but is in all respects dependent on and involved with the divine Origin.


The most intimate involvement of God with created reality is characterized by His love.  Acceptance of the unity in love repeals the ethical deficit of love in the current ethics of technology.  Man should alienate himself from reality in order to approach God in love.  Then he could turn to his neighbor in love as well as to God's reality.  It is not by accident that, in the Christian religion, the command of love for God and the neighbor contains the essence of all motives, commands, values and norms.  Also, in technological development, this dual love must unify.  This means that from the start everything must be appreciated according to its nature.  Apart from regard for values and norms this also ensures attention to context-values:  the ecological and social values.


We will have to trace what the repealing of the cosmological and ethical deficit means for the development of technology.


10.  A renewed cultural picture


Which picture that preceded science and technology can help us to see how we can reposition ourselves in technological development?  The cultural philosopher Hans Jonas can be helpful.  Imagine, he says, that we were on the moon.  We would then be impressed by the immenseness of the cosmos.  From the moon the extreme unicity of the earth in the gigantic cosmos will be conspicuous.  It is the only green planet in our solar system.  A multiplicity of life is present.  If we as moon travelers want to survive, we will have to return to earth.  From the moon, says Jonas, we find to our horror that planet earth is in danger.  The exceptionality of life is threatened by the present technological-economic development.  Change is necessary.  Technology and economy may not threaten life, but must rather serve life.


A responsible cultural development summons a representation of culture that depicts earth as a garden tended by humans, a garden as a community-house.  Foremost in that picture is an unbreakable cohesion and the inherent value or nature of everything.  The intrinsic values must be respected before we involve scientific-technological activities.  Every human activity should begin with caring association and respectful treatment.  Creation and creature have to be treated according to their nature, otherwise life will flee.  This is not idolization of nature.  On the contrary, it is a recognition of the caring of the Creator, which has to be answered by humans.  The metaphor of a developing garden does not mean that some romantic picture is being pursued, but recognizes that all things are interconnected and have to be, by means of technology - especially in alliance with economy - directed at occupation of the garden and through opening up of nature, at maintaining and strengthening all that live.


The garden metaphor also reflects the alliance and dependability of man on the whole of creation.  Reality has been given him as a present, he may not be lord and master, but must act as keeper and minder.  He may develop and reveal creation as we would carefully open a big present.  In this way we must treat the present of God's earth.  It means that especially technology and the economy is taken into service by all that lives.


The picture of the garden also clearly links to the original meaning of 'economos'.  We should care, cherish, protect and conserve as part and parcel of harvesting, building and producing.  In the cultural paradigm of the controlled garden, upscaling and cultural acceleration will, in terms of scale and pace, be transposed to levels that will benefit the coexistence of man and creation.  In the picture of the garden the limits of the carrying capacity of nature is respected.  Responsible cultural development means living on the interest of the given capital, but excludes using or depleting the capital itself.  Usufruct indicates the direction for a more sustainable cultural development.  Sustainability is possible within the metaphor of the garden:  this means that technology together with economy refrain from manipulation, extortion and pollution, but as the economist Herman Daly of the World Bank put it, to maintain the fruit-bearing capacity of the earth and thus possibly increase it and to limit withdrawal to usufruct which has to be offered to all humans, now and in the future.  A more harmonious development could start in which ecology, technology and economy are in equilibrium. Technology and economy will thereby have to be placed in a different ethical context.


This is a start for a new cultural transformation.  It amounts therefore, to a fundamental re-orientation of the technological-economic order.  It allows room for growth that is more proportional and selective.  Apart from technology and economy in building and producing, more attention is required for maintenance, for protection, conservation, for guarding and caring.  Thereby the diversity of life forms in the plant and animal kingdoms can be preserved.  Technology and the economy must be developed within the perspective of the earth as one large garden-city.


We must cling to the original picture of the garden, while it has to be admitted that the conditions under which man is allowed to work in it were strongly altered by sin, the breach between God and man: thorns, thistles and death.  But the meaning of it all beckons: the Kingdom of God.  This struggle is inherent to the position of man.  Moreover, what will a human gain if he wins the whole world, but loses his life, his soul? (Mat.16:26).


11.  Ethics of responsibility: Revoking the ethical deficit


The question that now needs answering is which ethical approach is the fittest to revoke the described ethical deficit of love in the current ethics of technology .  Not only the duty or the aim has to be accounted for, also the motive and the values and norms of the complex world of technology, as well as the values of the ecological and social context that require protection.


The two centuries old ethical approaches - the deontological and the teleological - are no longer suitable for the dynamic and complex phenomenon of modern technology.  Technology is no longer characterized by the relationship man-tool but has become a dynamic system.  Therefore the first approach  - deontology or duty ethics - resulted in a more pragmatic or even  pragmatistic ethics  in which former fixed norms were relativised.  Also the teleological approach no longer satisfies because, in view of the many harmful consequences in which attention not only need to be given to the aims, but also the means will also have to be tested.  Therefore, people have introduced match game ethics, which does not differ much from pragmatic  ethics because the game rules allow fundamental changes.  In a certain sense both approaches eventually culminated in what I have termed technological ethics.  In any case, the traditional ethics is no longer applicable to technology.  This is the result of the influence of science in technology, and modern technology is furthermore entwined with economic undertakings.  This STE complex has acquired a dynamism and there are so many agents that a new approach is called for.  In any case, we have to remember world-wide effects, anticipating what may happen and acting in an interdisciplinary way (Vandenburg).  Moreover, the consequences of technology have changed drastically for the environment we live in.


I believe an ethics of responsibility is the most appropriate approach for an ethics of technology.


The word responsibility is very apt because it indicates that everyone who is involved in scientific-technological development must assume the role of envoy.  The wider meaning is also illustrated by the double foundation of the word 'responsibility'.  Everyone involved in scientific-technological development not only carries accountability, but must also answer for his actions.  In other words, everyone must indicate on the grounds of which cultural picture, which motives, values, principles, norms he acted and made his contribution in the scientific-technological events.  It means that in ethics of responsibility there is scope for 'calling'.  'Calling' especially emphasizes the positive instruction.  While ethics is associated with 'what may not be allowed' in actual discussions on problematic development, within the context of 'responsibility ethics' a start has to be made to place emphasis on the positive.  It is aptly said that, by means of new technological possibilities to alleviate human suffering or distress, the ethical conception of possible help changed to an ethical obligation.  In general, a good starting point for an ethics of responsibility seems that the 'actors' must be aware of the positive scope of their action in or with technology.  They have to publicly give account of their actions and must also be answerable.  In the first place the point at issue is rendering and keeping the world habitable, to provide the necessities of life and the alleviation of need and suffering.


Successively I would like to give brief attention to the implications of responsibility ethics for motives, values and norms.


11.1  Renewing of motives


We saw, that for the predominant spiritual-historical background the spiritual driving force for technology and the sectors marked by it, namely agriculture, economics, politics, etc. is the power motive or the control motive.  This central motive differentiates itself in science as the motive of 'knowledge is power' and in technology as the motive of technology for the sake of technology, or of the motive of technological perfection: what can be made must be made.  The harvest produced in industrial agriculture by unbridled scientific-technological power eventually leads to exploitation and overcropping.  The conglomeration of cultural powers are strengthened via materialistic politics and via a materialistic economy focused solely on money power and material gain.  This convergence of powers proves to disrupt nature and culture.  It is illusionary to think that these powers will serve values other than those based on growth in power, upscaling and concentration.


In the perspective of the garden-development man should direct his cultural activities away from himself in love for God and the neighbour; then the motives for the different cultural activities will acquire new contents instead of the central motive of power, in which man circles around himself in self- interest.  A central motive of love will provide a reference direction.  What follows is a divergence of the different cultural activities.  This implies that in science the pursuance of wisdom should be the prime objective and in technology building and conserving.  Therewith the different responsibilities of science and technology are guaranteed.  This divergence is the way to achieve a meaningful flourishing of cultural activities.


I would like to explicate these authentic values for science and technology.


11.1.1 Science: growth in wisdom


Modern science is under the influence of the technological control mode of thought.  It is not technological because of the results of its applications, but it is technological because it observes reality only in the light of calculability and predictability and because it is only interested in commanding and controlling reality.  This must be understood correctly.  Many scientists would say that, due to  interest in truth, they want to get to know reality better.  That does not change my statement that modern science 'im grossen und ganzen', as a result of the predominant cultural motives and cultural powers became technological in core and character.


Only when recognition of the Origin and the meaning of reality precedes and colours the practicing of science - the viewing of the given reality as a maintained garden - will an instrumentalistic science be rejected and will science be positioned in a correct relationship to the full experiential reality.  It has to be integrated with the full experiential reality, thereby deepening experiential knowledge.  On other words, scientific knowledge will then serve growth in wisdom.


In this way science will promote an increasingly comprehensive and wise insight.  Reality is not surrendered to a functionalism and to a man-defined meaning of reality, as for example the benefit that the functional reality has for materialistically oriented man.  Put briefly, science serves a comprehensive insight and strengthens human responsibility with a view to everything that relates to reality as a developing garden.


11.1.2 Technology in the service of individual and societal life: technology as prosthesis


What I have said of science in general, also applies to technological science, to technology.  It may also not serve as instrument of scientific-technological control.  This will not rob technology of its distinct character or meaning.  Technology should not be the result of an instrumental use of science or application of science, as is frequently said.  Those are visions that will rather derail technology or that will ignore this derailment instead of providing room for justified technology development.


Similar visions also diminish the place of invention in technological development.  It has been said that invention is the heart of technology.  It means that human creativity must not allow science to restrict it, but must be fed and even stimulated by old and new scientific knowledge.  It would be useful to, even in the training of engineers, pay more attention to justified creativity in invention and innovations in order to render technology more serviceable to life.  The motive in technology should be usefulness to life and societ.  Technology must, as it were, both individually and collectively, serve as a prothesis.  Then man will retain a say over technology.  Not only small scale technology has to be considered.  Therefore, wherever possible, subterranean building should be suggested if the milieu can thereby be saved, and human society will experience less discomfort.


11.2    Other values (ecological, technological and social)


For a justified technology the ethical challenge is finding, not only true motives, but also milieu values, technological values and social values.


The ecological values include the preservation of biodiversity, clean water, soil and air, the fertilization of soils, and improving the life milieu.  The biosphere must remain intact and therefore a war must be waged against dangerous emission gases.


To the technological values belong habitability, the provision of basic necessities of life, for instance food and health, a battle against suffering and illness, a fight against threats from nature and a focus on healing, sustainability, lessening physical work burdens, etc.  Beyond our physical wants, real meaning fulfillment is found in spiritual growth, personal relations and communal life.


The social values are those of communal meaning, sobriety, justice, considerateness, of strengthening information and communication and therefore, social welfare in general.  It is too daring to suggest that 'rest', 'having time' and spiritual revival must also be mentioned here as the unused chances of modern technology?


11.3            Integral framework of norms:  Simultaneous and plural application


With reference to technological development I have up to now given attention to the cultural picture, motives and values that have to be considered:  technology has to be serviceable to a great number of life forms, befitting a healthy garden development.  A connection with the existing situation must always be sought.


Science, technology and economy developing within the perspective of the earth as a habitable garden do not imply wasteful and threatening technology and a throw away economy but technology serviceable to life and an economy of usufruct.  Such a culture is characterized by the striving for harmony with nature; nature and technology, garden and city are not in competition with one another.  Such a culture is characterized by real sustainability that is, as stated earlier, not possible in the current technological world picture.  As a result of the present motives this model knows only an internal dynamic of boundlessness.  The garden model does real service to sustainability and stability.  Simultaneously there is room for economic growth in the sense of a steady state development.  Ecology and economy are in equilibrium with one another when the natural cycles are not disrupted and the source in use is prevented from drying out.  It is the culture of moderation and consciousness of boundaries that may not be overstepped.  In such a culture a sustainable situation is established in the sense that for life and community the use of God's given possibilities will also be possible in future.


Apart from the link with nature and culture man has to attempt to steer in the correct normative direction under influence of the proper motive.  In order to test the correctness of the direction it is necessary to satisfy a large number of normative principles and related norms.  The normative principles apply not only to technology but also to the manifold relations of this technology with nature and society.


The normative principles are derived from the analysis of structure in the Reformational Philosophy and forms a guide for responsible technological development.  The norms are the cultural-historical norms, the norms of effectiveness, the norms of information and communication, of harmony, of efficiency, of caring and respect.  In my publications I have given it much attention (see Perspectives on Technology and Culture, Dordt Press, Sioux Center, U.S.A./Institute for Reformational Studies, Potchefstroom, South Africa, 1995, p. 96-101, and Faith, Hope and Technology, Piquant Press, England, 2002).


Both a broad approach and a fixed direction will be implied by the way of the normative approach.  The way begins with the acceptance of the previously mentioned motives from which science and technology have to be practiced, namely that of wisdom as well as building and conservation. 'Wisdom' and 'conservation' are frequently forgotten.  Had this not been so, biology and ecology would long ago have been accepted as fundamental sciences for technological science.  Indeed, with 'conservation' the preservation of nature and the maintenance of a healthy biosphere are intended.  The present technological development frequently results in the technicization of nature.  Frequently the notion that technology needs a more comprehensive scientific basis is absent.  This basis makes a contribution to growth in wisdom and results in a creative and cautious conduct in modern technology, with a view to serviceableness to life.  Then the previously introduced idea of culture that views earth as a garden to be developed, with accompanying values, is served.


12. Consequences of reorientation for technology


I now wish to treat the consequences of the new approach to culture.  Thereto it has to be remembered that until now I have placed two 'ideal-type' cultural paradigms or perspectives against one another.  In reality no such absolute contrast exists.


From the metaphor or perspective of earth as a garden a clear relationship can be found.  The technological worldview parasitizes on reality as created reality.  It causes disturbances from which it can never free itself.  That is the reason why much flexibility can be observed within the worldview which people increasingly seem to find lacking.  Luckily there are instructive inconsistencies to reflect on.  Conversely:  those who recognize a created reality, are still frequently bound to the technological worldview.  This complicated situation makes clear that the choice of the correct direction is a never-ending mandate that implies a struggle and excludes indolence.


Although the stressing of another perspective remains important for the philosopher, it would be legitimate to enquire about the consequences for praxis of this ethical-philosophical view and about the differences from those views which are currently held.


To begin with the latter:  the outlined perspective and the motives and norms must sensitize us for other possible developments.  The contributory considerations have to be reported.  The reorientation in technology requires, as has been said, human and social values, animal values, ecological values and values of the biosphere.  These values are still under pressure.  New technologies provide opportunities for directional change.


12.1            Priorities


 It is common in science and technology to strive for the remarkable.  This leads to violation of justice by giving less attention to technologies that could help people in their struggle against hunger and illness.  It is a crying shame to see that possible solutions for these problems receive less attention and money than money-squandering prestigious projects concerned with astronautics, such as space flights to far-off planets.  These enterprises are interesting but should we not rather fulfill our ethical commitments by re-priotorizing?  To name another example of injustice, should we not say that our given raw materials require an equitable redistribution in order to allow the poor and needy to share in them?  This prioritizing will confirm that there is enough for everyone:  "There is enough for every need, but not for every greed".


Explanation: The technological world picture summons a technological expectation of salvation that marks economic development.  Because technological development and economic growth mutually miss every opportunity for equitable distribution, poverty and hunger are expanding in the Third World.  The growth in trade in between the USA, Europe and Japan is still increasing, while it is receding amongst other countries.  The four leaders in the new economy have a greater income per annum than 48 poor countries.  The increasing concentration of economic power has, apart from many advantages, also numerous disadvantages.  In agriculture we experience loss of fertile soils and an increase in new pathogens.  Irresponsible genetic manipulation intensifies this process, while people aim for the opposite.  Loss of biodiversity is dangerous for sustainable agriculture in future.  Therefore, tenableness and sustainability come into question.


12.2            Ecological, social or culturally adjusted technologies


 From within the stated motives modern technology should join with the given situation in which man, culture, nature, milieu and, for example the landscape, find themselves.  Therefore, modern technology must be ecologically responsible, and therefore be adapted technology.  Where, in the mean time, disruptions have occurred, as much repairing as possible has to be done. It definitely does not imply a request for reversion to handicraft technology.  The adapted technology, in comparison with current development, will have to undergo broadening.  This differentiation in technological development will of essence also have to have a clear cultural dimension.  Technology should not come into conflict with the condition of cultural development and its rich variation, but must join it in its development in order that the adapted technology may simultaneously enrich this culture.  It is a pity that, in the developing countries, we have to report the contrary.  In these countries modern technology frequently leads to a break with existing culture.


Also in industrial countries serious problems are frequently encountered, for instance between technology and nature.  Sometimes waste products are very damaging to man and nature.  It has to be realized - by the engineer as technological scientist and, in the first place, by technicians - that dangerous waste materials do not belong in responsible technology.  It is the duty of engineers to find solutions for waste products.


I therefore find it a pity that the influence of Schumacher, with his call for the wider application of intermediary or small technologies, receives little attention.  A caricature has been made of him.  Schumacher did not imply a return to primitive and pre-scientific technology, but wanted a technology that combines with nature, with culture and a technology that fits the human scale.  Therefore, subject to external boundaries and human restrictions we have mighty powers and forces at our disposal, but we remain dependent on fragile ecosystems.  This is frequently not considered by existing technological-economical forces, with known serious consequences.  Therefore we must, with a view to a healthy future, maintain that a creative, inventive - therefore with room for invention and innovation - technology is required that is economically productive, that is ecologically and culturally adjusted, socially fair and which offers personal fulfillment (Barber, 25).  It will even be possible to integrate these technologies with computer technology or the Internet because by means of these technologies decentralization of power rather than its concentration is possible.  When our technologies provide us with more power, especially the vision to serve and use it with wisdom, must be invigorated.


12.3            Ecological agriculture


he problems of industrial agriculture are so massive that the outline sketched above could become real, unless a switch is made to biological or ecological agriculture.  If agriculture does not commit itself to an almost divine worship of nature - therefore not characterized by naturalism - it will be increasingly accepted as the problems of industrial agriculture increase.


In industrial agriculture we are frequently guilty of technologizing.  On the one hand modern technology leads to lower production costs, but on the other hand the increased production leads to damage to the farmer, animals, nature and the milieu.  Surplus production causes uncertainty in agriculture with respect to future possibilities, loss of animal welfare, over-fertilization, impoverishment and pollution of the soil, new sicknesses of the soil, disturbance of the landscape, pollution of the milieu, loss of biodiversity and a bleak future for rural areas.  While, in agriculture, a live reality is involved, we have been viewing it as inorganic.  Agriculture in the grip of the scientific-technological control ideal, has been divorced from the ecological, biotic and cultural context.


In biological and ecological agriculture people want to repair the good relationship.  Qualitatively, good products and milieu profit can go together.  In this agriculture there is no relapse to earlier periods, but, with a qualitatively higher input of biology and soil science people will involve themselves more wisely with soils, plants and animals.  The fertility of soils is hereby promoted.


12.4            Genetic manipulation


The absence of a normative framework for new technologies is especially evident in the introduction of genetic manipulation of plants, animals and humans.  Genetic manipulation must be treated more critically and must be ethically and juridically curtailed.  The present development is unpredictable and risky and possibly irreversible in its negative consequences.  A model different from the technological model must be used when living organisms are involved.  The best would be to develop an organic paradigm for the judging of new possibilities.  Paradigm switching will already be better because the organic model has life as its point of departure, while the technological model ignores life in principle.


In general I would honour the ethical 'no, unless' as a principle for the possibilities of genetic manipulation of plants animals and humans.  That 'no' must prevent that genetically manipulated plants cause sickness or natural disturbances or loss of bio-diversity.  Should the introduction of genetic manipulation be contemplated, then people must make a reasoned appeal to the 'unless'.  From the start it will have to be considered to make the developers of the technology responsible for the risks involved.  This means that politics must furnish an ethical screening framework.


It is clear that when people consider genetic manipulation of humans the 'unless' will only apply to the level of organs.  Genetic manipulation via the nucleus, which will involve the whole human, must remain prohibited.  Where animals are involved, for instance in the production of medicines, the 'unless' can have a wider interpretation.


12.5            Alternative energy, sustainable energy and dematerialization


When we, on the one hand, see the relativeness of science and technology and, on the other hand, the existing dangers, we become more creative in the development of alternatives.  Thus we develop energy sources that renew themselves, e.g. wind and solar energy.  By not allowing loss of material we advance the possibilities of recycling.  Life cycles of products will be controlled to the extent that almost 100% of the raw materials will be recycled.  Process technology can make an important contribution to this development, e.g. the generation of clean energy from refuse burning installations.  Process technology will also develop new energy carriers, e.g. hydrogen, photo cells, biomass, wind, etc.  The change to sustainable raw materials produced by agriculture becomes possible due to the more efficient application of biological, biochemical and chemical processes.  Separation technology, based on hugely improved fundamental process science plays a key role in these developments.  Consideration can also be given to dematerialization of energy streams:  solar energy is directly converted to electricity and/or hydrogen.


12.6  Dilemmas


In conclusion:  Dilemmas can become acute when technology is re-orientated.  Research aimed at rendering safe the radio-active wastes from nuclear power stations must continue with a view to using these facilities responsibly.  These plants will, however, also have to be controlled more effectively.  Energy generation can be considered from sustainable sources in contrast with the fossil fuel currently used.  As long as radio-active wastes cannot be made safe technologically, nuclear energy will remain very dangerous.


13.  Political consequences


Before we conclude, it is necessary to make one further remark about the context in which the development of technological science and modern technology takes place.  Within a 'free market economy' the sketched ethical context must be followed if people understand 'freedom' as 'freedom with responsibility'.  Reality, however, teaches us that economic power favours or even strengthens technicism and technisization.  Many people look towards politics to counter this.  But materialistic politics also strengthens the same process.  But involving politics is the right way to place 'derailments' on the agenda because the running of the state concerns everyone and the state  also has the power to restrict economic enterprises.  Politics must, however be tuned to the sketched normative context and must, according to the nature of politics, focus on law and public justice.  In connection with the present dislocated situation the brakes will have to be applied to the technicization process.  Via politics people can choose another direction for technology, for a broadly normated and differently constituted technology, friendlier toward the milieu, nature, animals and culture.  Ethically just actions are then juridically enforced.  It has further to be acknowledged that such national politics can only be effective provided it is - given our globalizing culture - based on law and public justice and supported in the international political arena.  The prophetic message of Amos is of current interest:  "But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream" (Amos 5:24).


14.  Struggle


Finally I hope that I have not given the impression that the sketched perspective can be fully realised by us.  It will be enlightening during cultural problems and cultural threats.  Thorns and thistles will continue to accompany our work.  Until, through God's intervention, the developed earth, once characterised by distortion, will be transformed to the divine garden-city (Rev. 21:9-22:5) where men will be revealed as sons of God, freed to the glory of the freedom of children of God (Rom. 8).  In a unexpected way it will then be clear that the work in science and technology, in spite of man himself, will be involved in recreation.  That perspective gives hope and places us under obligations.  The hope and obligations present an inspiration for another ethics in which people are asked to take their responsibility to seek the meaning of technology, not in isolation, but contained in the full meaning of reality.  That sketched ethical perspective continues to inspire.  This ethics must be told and heard in our technological world.









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Ernst F. Schumacher, Small is beautiful, Blond & Briggers, London 1973.


Ernst F. Schumacher, A Guide For the Perplexed, Jonathan Cape. Ltd, 1977


Egbert Schuurman, Perspectives on Technology and Culture, Dordt Press, Sioux Center, U.S.A./Institute for Reformational Studies, Potchefstroom, South. Africa, 1995.


Egbert Schuurman,: Faith, Hope and Technology , Piquant Press, 2002.


Hugo Staudinger, Geschichte kritischen Denkens. Christiana Verlag, Stein am Rhein, 2000.


Paul Tillich, The Spiritual Situation in Our Technical Society, Scribner, New York. 1986.


Willem H. Vandenburg, The Labyrinth of Technology., Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2000.


Robert A. Wauzzinsky, Discerning Prometheus - The Cry for Wisdom in Our Technologica1 Society, London, Associated University Press, 2001






*) About Egbert Schuurman:

Adress: Karel Doormanweg 7

3621 JV Breukelen

The Netherlands



Egbert Schuurman (1937), studied Civil Engineering at the Technological University of Delft and Philosophy at the Free University of Amsterdam; is Professor in Reformational Philo­sop­hy at the Technological Universities of Delft and Eindho­ven and at the Agricultural University of Wageningen; is a Member of the Senate of the Dutch Parliament. Main publi­cations in En­glish are: Technology and the Future -- A Phi­losophical Challenge, Wedge, Toronto, 1980; Reflections on the Technological Society, Wedge, 1983.2; Tech­nology in  Christian-Philosophical Perspective, Potchef­stroom, 1981; Information Society: Impoverishment or enrichment of culture, Potchefstroom, 1984; Christians in Babel, Paideia Press, Ontario,1987; The Future: Our Choice or Gods Gift?, Exile Publications, Wellington, New Zealand, 1990; Perspectives on Technology and Culture, Pro Rege Press (forthcoming);co-author of Respon­si­ble Technology, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1986; Faith, Hope and Technology, Piquant, England, 2002.  Several of these publications are translated in the Korean, Japanese or Chinese language.

             He is a doctor of honour of the University of Potchef­stroom, South Africa.

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