Pragmatic Ethics - History, Philosophy and Methodology...

3.3. Pragmatic ethics

Two approaches dominate in the technical ethics: one of them is oriented towards pragmatism, the second - the ethics of responsibility - will be considered below. The first approach is especially characteristic of authors gravitating toward analytical philosophy. Accordingly, researchers from the continental part of Europe are gravitating toward an ethic of responsibility. A notable philosophical milestone in the development of a pragmatic approach was the collection of articles "Pragmatic Ethics for Technological Culture". Dissatisfied with the detachment of traditional ethics from actual technical problems, the authors of the collection turned to the potential of pragmatism. The articles of the collection were concentrated around four themes: 1) technique and ethics; 2) the status of pragmatism; 3) pragmatism and practices; 4) discursive ethics and deliberative democracy.

Basic ideas

Discussion of the topic Technology & Ethics accompanied by critical remarks about transcendentalism (a priori) and fundamentalism in ethics. Particular emphasis was placed on the instrumental nature of pragmatic ethics, which is a means of resolving actual problems. Pragmatism was viewed as a social activity focused on solving problems, taking into account the accumulated social experience and having a political orientation. Some discrepancies related to the assessment of the relevance of classical pragmatism, which goes back to the names of C. Pearce, W. James and D. Dewey. In particular, doubts aroused the thesis that pragmatic ethics should be just a continuation of the views of the classics. The discussion of the relationship between pragmatism and practices and deliberative democracy, in fact, was aimed at recording the achievements of European philosophy, because not only pragmatic authors argued about the practices, but also, for example, the poststructuralist M. Foucault. The main line of reasoning was aimed not only at necessity, but also at the sufficiency of a pragmatic understanding of practices. The question of deliberative democracy arose in connection with the discursive ethics of J. Habermas. It was noted that it deals with ideal cases, but should address specific actual problems. Among the authors of the collection, bioethics dominated, while not paying the slightest attention to the difference in technical ethics, on the one hand, and bioethics, on the other. The appeal to specific problems of bioethics was welcomed, which allowed demonstrating, on examples, the relevance and necessity of pragmatic ethics.

The collection became the subject of a critical analysis for a number of authors whose comments allowed a more thorough understanding of the perspectives of pragmatic technical and ethical ethics. The discussion that has developed in this connection is precisely the subject of further analysis.

On universal judgments. J. De Ridder tried to clarify the question of the relation of pragmatism to universal judgments. It is not necessary to oppose them. Artifacts have simple functions, which are determined by their physical device. While only simple functions are involved, judgments will be universal. But if simple functions are used in a certain way, for example, the motor drives the pump, then a special explanation will arise. Simple functions of artifacts have an external character. If they are explained, then normality is attributed to them, although artifacts in themselves do not have normative features. It seems, however, that the disputing parties did not fully take into account the status of the technical-logical theory. It should be taken as it is. It is wrong to follow De Ridder against, on the one hand, the description of simple functions of artifacts, and on the other hand, their normative explanation. It should be a theory as a dynamic conceptual whole. If artifacts are pulled out of this whole, the theory will be destroyed, and then meaningful expressions are impossible, as it is impossible to talk about the engine outside the theory. If you turn to the theory as a whole, you will certainly have to talk about the optimization parameters, because if the engine is embedded somewhere, for example, is put on a motor boat, then it is included in some structure and due to this it acquires new normatively loaded functions. As we see, pragmatists do not always relate to the theory with due diligence.

On the inadmissibility of the absolutization of a pragmatic approach. V.Colapietro in the article with the indicative title "Pragmatic turn: a practical turn to human practices in all their diversity" warned his colleagues against attributing all ethical merits to purely pragmatism. In his opinion, pragmatism is just a general approach to the practices, and in this capacity it merges with the hermeneutics and post-structuralism of Foucault. The central idea of ​​Colapietro is that there is a lot of practice and one should not approach them with common measures, insisting on an ideal consensus, as Habermas does. But there is another extreme, which some pragmatists can not avoid: the recognition of all practices is equally relevant. Only a specific study can determine the relevance of a particular practice, as well as the consent or disagreement of people.

Colapietro quite rightly opposes the absolutization of pragmatism, which offers only a certain, namely practical, orientation. But in this case it obviously lacks concreteness, therefore, it must be filled with real content. How to do it, Colapietro does not explain. Once again, we must note that ignoring the content of scientific theories does not allow researchers to leave the metaphysical soil. Pragmatism claims both concreteness and a broad historical perspective. To provide both the first and the second one, first, the problematization of the content of technical and theological theories, and secondly, taking into account the inter-scientific ties. Until pragmatism is perceived solely as a substantial philosophical theory, it will not become a method that will lead to significant advances in the field of the ethics of engineering.

Against the absolutism of ethics. J. Pete expressed his criticisms in the article "Ethical Colonialism". The main content of pragmatism, he reduces to two maxims: 1) it is necessary to consider the consequences of actions; 2) the final arbitrator in ethical disputes is society. The author is most critical of attempts to ascribe features of normality to artifacts: normality belongs to people, not to things. In addition, it should be borne in mind that along with ethical there are epistemological values. If, firstly, do not distinguish epistemological and ethical values, and secondly, attribute normality to the technical artifacts themselves, then it turns out to be "ethical colonialism".

In his response to the charge in "ethical colonialism" editors of the book noted that they are not going to equate people and things as normative entities. In the framework of ethical relations, the role of people and artifacts is far from the same: people are the creative side of this relationship. But, recognizing the inclusion of artifacts in ethical relations, it is wrong to completely exclude their normativnost1. As for Pete's comment on the need to distinguish between epistemological and practical values, it generally fell out of the field of view of editors. Meanwhile, this provision deserves attention.

The fact is that any theory can be considered from various positions, in particular epistemological, ontological, ethical. Earlier it was noted that epistemology (the theory of knowledge) answers the question: "What concepts does the theory contain?", Ethics center around another question: "What should I do?" With this in mind, let's compare physics and technology. In physics, there are epistemological values, expressed in the adherence of researchers to certain methods. At the same time, there are no ethical values ​​in it, for the question is not raised: "What must be done with nature to improve it?". In technical science, there are epistemological and ethical values. This circumstance Pete attaches the most significant value, opposing the values ​​of the two types to each other - and this is an undesirable extreme. When considering a phenomenon from different positions, it always looks different, but it remains the same, does not separate into several parts. Epistemological values ​​in the composition of technical science are all the same ethical values, but considered from a different perspective. Technological ethics is thoroughly pragmatic: there is no ethical colonialism in the recognition of this circumstance. It takes place only when, within the framework of technical science, the content of epistemology is reduced to ethics. This information really should not be.

Another criticism of Pete concerned the question of overcoming the fear of the unknown. How to combine different points of view, the origin of which is not completely clear?

We need to use metaphors, which combine much of what is not articulated. Further, it is necessary to consider the consequences of the actions taken. In the achieved results, precisely the unknown manifestation of the unknown is obtained. The editors of the book responded to this by referring to the concept of boundary objects, developed by S. Star and J. Graysmer. Bridges between dissimilar views, such as scientific and everyday views, allow boundary objects, which, when viewed from different perspectives, provide a resonance between different in nature discourses . Representations about boundary objects are just metaphors. But in order to understand their content, one should not consider the consequences of actions, as Pete suggests, but promote cooperation and co-existence of people belonging to different social groups. Thus, the place of scientific concepts is introduced a figure of speech, a metaphor. But is it really necessary to resort to it when characterizing differently interpreted situations?

Metaphor as a figure of speech involves the use of some objects to describe others. It is topical that there is no transition from one conceptual framework to another. For example, if an artist is called the "star of the screen", then the speaker does not intend to reason on astronomical topics. A fundamentally different situation develops if a transition is made from one conceptual system to another. In this case, one must resort to inter-theoretical relations. Let us assume that the question of the political expediency of the construction of aircraft carriers is being considered. It is clear that technical and political experts can not be avoided in this matter, and the decisive word is left for political experts who perceive technical descriptions as signs of political values. In this example, we are talking about the ratio of different branches of science. But inter-theoretical relations can relate to the same conceptual series. Suppose that the issue of building nuclear power plants in a certain region is being resolved. Energetics need to obtain the consent of the local population. The absolute majority of citizens is guided by common sense. Energy, wanting to be heard, is forced to translate their scientific proposals into the language of common sense, while they do not abandon the achievements of technical science, but only reformulate them. The theory of common sense is interpreted from the standpoint of scientific technical science, and for this operation there is no need for metaphors.

Pragmaticians correctly draw attention to the need for a combination of different views. Pluralism is ineradicable, but it must always be remembered that its understanding involves the isolation of well-defined conceptual frameworks. Pluralism does not involve the mixing of dissimilar conceptual entities.

About the relevance of pragmatic technical ethics. Summing up the analysis of the relevance of pragmatic ethics for the fate of technical science, it should be noted that this form of ethics is quite legitimately entrusted with great expectations. However, in the form in which it was presented in the works reviewed above, pragmatic ethics still remains at a respectful distance from technical science. The bridge between pragmatic ethics and technical science has never been built, since it is impossible to go directly from technical ethics to technical science.

In conclusion, let's outline the main maxims of pragmatic ethics: 1) understanding of everything and everything as a practice; 2) accounting and pluralism; 3) Evaluate the success rate of a particular practice through the results achieved. The third maximum is characteristic of consequentialism (consequence of consequence ). There is reason to argue that pragmatic ethics is the historical successor of utilitarianism. In there is less activism and pluralism than in pragmatic ethics, but in their final conclusions they coincide with each other.


1. Pragmatic ethics is an extremely influential form of metaphysics, but it lacks a meta-scientific interpretation.

2. One of the difficulties of pragmatic ethics is an inadequately developed form of understanding pluralism.

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