Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Value of Technological Idealisations to Future Ethical Thinking

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posted on 2021-11-22, 12:36 authored by Kelly, Adam

This thesis focuses on what I have called “technological idealisations”, and how they are valuable to many current and future ethical debates. Technological idealisations refer to a methodology of using technology thought experiments to contribute to ethical debates. I do not claim this to be a new idea, and in fact will go on to give many examples of technological idealisation that already exist in the philosophical literature. The term describes the purposeful effort to collate these examples into a specific methodological framework; one which gives a particular kind of evidence which can ignore concerns of practicality and critically focus on the theoretical issues in a given debate.  In order to explore this idea I will first be looking at past, better known, examples of idealisations to facilitate understanding of my own. I will look at Rawlsian ideal theory as a template for my own idealisations, as well as to explain how they can be valuable in contributing to debates (in Rawls’ case political and in my case ethical). Rawls’ split up the field of political theory into ideal and non-ideal theory. Non-ideal theory is practical and works within the constraints of current political reality. Ideal theory idealises the political conditions to allow theorising regarding perfect political theory. The same can be done for ethics and for technology as it relates to ethics, as is my goal. Following on from this, I also examine Johann Roduit’s use of ideal theory in the closely related field of human enhancement, in which he develops an interesting methodology of using ideals to guide human enhancement programmes.  However, rather than being concerned with Roduit’s practical aim, my goal is theoretical. I want to take the ethical principles and theories themselves as ideals for technological development; in doing so technologies will be created, through the use of thought experiments, which agree with the theoretical aims of the theory or principle. These technologies can then be ethically examined and the resulting evidence can contribute (and has in the past contributed) to the ethical debate of those concepts and theories. The kind of evidence I see technological idealisations as offering ignores practical concerns and in doing so is also immune to criticisms of impracticality. This allows for more closely focused scrutiny of the ethical theories and principles themselves, undistracted by appeals to practicality which either argue for accepting a theory due to its utility or argue for rejecting a theory due to its impracticality.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Arts

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Agar, Nicholas