Technology and the Virtues, A Philosophical Guide to a Future Worth Wanting. By Shannon Vallor, Oxford University Press (2018).

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Author: Kevin P. Lee
Date: July 2019
From: The Journal Jurisprudence(Vol. 39)
Publisher: Elias Clark
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,458 words
Lexile Measure: 1480L

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In Technology and the Virtues, (1) Shannon Vallor develops an approach to the ethics of technology rooted in a comparison of Aristotelian, Confucian, and Buddhist theories of moral virtue. She argues that "technologies invite or afford specific patterns of thought, behavior, and valuing; they open up new possibilities for human action and foreclose or obscure others." (2) Sometimes, this is done explicitly and sometimes it is implicit. Consider, for example, the practice of human-centered design thinking, which is an iterative process for product design that places high value on user experience. The resulting products and services are shaped by the designer's understanding of what constitutes a human need or want, typically derived through an ethnographical study of human behavior. Major technology companies, including Google and Apple, use design thinking to improve customer satisfaction. Technology can also have unintended effects on human satisfaction by creating habits or traits that help or hinder human behavior and character. For example, using computer screens has displaced paper as the preferred means for delivering reading materials, with the unintended effects of decreasing the reader's engagement with text and promoting interruption and distraction. Vallor develops the neologism, "technomoral," to refer to the intended and unintended consequences of technology on the ability of humans to have fulfilled lives.

If this conception of the technomoral is correct, what virtues ought technology promote? How ought morally responsible decisions be made about technology? This is urgently needed since the NBIC (nano, bio, information, and cognitive) technologies hold the potential to unleash existential crises and radically transformative social changes? They present complex moral dilemmas that quickly exhaust the resources of standard policy debates and contribute to an increasingly "disordered geopolitics and widening fractures in the public commons." (3) Vallor argues that moral assessment of the technology cannot be achieved through the deontological and utilitarian ethics, which view moral reasoning in terms of discursive calculations within a field of moral possibilities. Thus, although these forms of moral reasoning dominate in public policy today, they become overwhelmed by rapid changes in social meaning because they lack resources for imagining the state of persistent change, characteristic of technology today. The alternative developed in Technology and the Virtues is to look comparatively to broadly diverse forms of practical reasoning--Aristotelian, Confucian, and Buddhist--to determine a minimal set of core principles that define the structure of thinking about the good. These common principles she argues can be the basis for a virtue ethics (which she calls "technomoral wisdom" (4)) that might describe common commitments to the common practices of the emerging global information society.


The book is divided into three parts: Part I is a metaphilosophical assessment. It advocates for a virtue ethics approach to assessing technology. Virtue (Latin), arete (Greek), and de (Chinese) refer to similar conceptualizations of assessing moral character, given excellent human function (ergon). (5) These ancient approaches to moral reasoning have been the object of renewed interest in contemporary moral philosophy. This interest was furthered by the...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A604678398