Imagining worlds: responsible engineering under conditions of epistemic opacity


Coeckelbergh, Mark (2010) Imagining worlds: responsible engineering under conditions of epistemic opacity. In: Ibo van de Poel & David E. Goldberg (Eds.), Philosophy and engineering: an emerging agenda. Philosophy of engineering and technology, 2 . Springer, pp. 175-187. ISBN 9789048128037

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Abstract:How must we understand the demand that engineering be morally responsible? Starting from the epistemic aspect of the problem, I distinguish between two approaches to moral responsibility. One ascribes moral responsibility to the self and to others under epistemic conditions of transparency, the other under conditions of opacity. I argue that the first approach is inadequate in the context of contemporary society, technology, and engineering. Between the actions of an engineer and the eventual consequences of her actions lies a complex world of relationships, people, things, time, and space. How adequate is the concept of individual action under these circumstances? Moreover, in a technological society it is hard to sharply distinguish between her contribution and those of others, and between her action and “accident” or “luck”. How, then, can we still act responsibly? I propose that we equip our moral thinking to deal with these new conditions, and argue that imagination can help engineers, researchers, and other stakeholders to reconstruct a world, imagine a history and a future, and imagine consequences for others in distant times and places. I illustrate this by exploring what it means to reconstruct a world of offshore engineering. I conclude that not only engineers but also other stakeholders could benefit from an education of the imagination, and I suggest further transdisciplinary work that contributes to a better understanding of responsible engineering under conditions of epistemic opacity
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Copyright:© 2010 Springer
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