Ethical capacity and its challenges in the academy of science: historical continuities and contemporary violence
Article by Kjersti Lohne published in Biologia Futura.
This reflective essay is inspired by a roundtable discussion at the World Science Forum on the question ‘Are there ethical limits to what science can achieve and should pursue?’ I argue that, amid the conflicting trends of ‘technological utopianism’—extreme faith in technological solutions; and ‘post-truth’ politics—the populist pushback against the universality of science, the conditions for ethical knowledge production are significantly challenged. Drawing on insights gleaned from my work on political violence, law, and technology, I point to historical continuities in the way the application and pursuit of science relates to violence—especially state violence. Conscious of the fact that science exercises no restraint on violence—and indeed, may be put to work for violent purposes—the paper calls for more attention to the social, structural, and political conditions of scientific production. The final part of this essay, therefore, examines three developments challenging the ethical capacity of scholars and scientists today. These are (1) the bureaucratization of ethics (2), ‘ethics washing,’ and (3) co-optation. Like other policy domains in our society, informed normative assessments around scientific pursuits—value judgments and ethical evaluation—ought to be based on sound empirical knowledge of the contingencies of science.
The paper is available here.