Responsibility Ascriptions in Technology Development and Engineering: Three Perspectives
AbstractIn the last decades increasing attention is paid to the topic of responsibility in technology development and engineering. The discussion of this topic is often guided by questions related to liability and blameworthiness. Recent discussions in engineering ethics call for a reconsideration of the traditional quest for responsibility. Rather than on alleged wrongdoing and blaming, the focus should shift to more socially responsible engineering, some authors argue. The present paper aims at exploring the different approaches to responsibility in order to see which one is most appropriate to apply to engineering and technology development. Using the example of the development of a new sewage water treatment technology, the paper shows how different approaches for ascribing responsibilities have different implications for engineering practice in general, and R&D or technological design in particular. It was found that there was a tension between the demands that follow from these different approaches, most notably between efficacy and fairness. Although the consequentialist approach with its efficacy criterion turned out to be most powerful, it was also shown that the fairness of responsibility ascriptions should somehow be taken into account. It is proposed to look for alternative, more procedural ways to approach the fairness of responsibility ascriptions.