Cross post from the Uehiro Centre blog.
When new technologies emerge, ethical questions inevitably arise about their use. Scientists with relevant expertise will be invited to speak on radio, on television, and in newspapers (sometimes ethicists are asked, too, but this is rarer). In many such cases, a particular phrase gets used when the interview turns to potential ethical issues:
“We need to have a conversation”.
It would make for an interesting qualitative research paper to analyse media interviews with scientists to see how often this phrase comes up (perhaps it seems more prevalent to me than it really is because I’ve become particularly attuned to it). Having not done that research, my suggestion that this is a common response should be taken with a pinch of salt. But it’s undeniably a phrase that gets trotted out. And I want to suggest that there are at least two issues with it. Neither of these issues is necessarily tied together with using this phrase—it’s entirely possible to use it without raising either—but they arise frequently.
In keeping with the stereotype of an Anglophone philosopher, I’m going to pick up on a couple of key terms in a phrase and ask what they mean. First, though, I’ll offer a brief, qualified defence of this phrase. My aim in raising these issues isn’t to attack scientists who use it, but rather to ask that a bit more thought is put into what is, at heart, a reasonable response to ethical complexity.
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