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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Technology and the Situationist Challenge to Virtue Ethics

Tollon, F.
Sci Eng Ethics 30, 10 (2024).


In this paper, I introduce a “promises and perils” framework for understanding the “soft” impacts of emerging technology, and argue for a eudaimonic conception of well-being. This eudaimonic conception of well-being, however, presupposes that we have something like stable character traits. I therefore defend this view from the “situationist challenge” and show that instead of viewing this challenge as a threat to well-being, we can incorporate it into how we think about living well with technology. Human beings are susceptible to situational influences and are often unaware of the ways that their social and technological environment influence not only their ability to do well, but even their ability to know whether they are doing well. Any theory that attempts to describe what it means for us to be doing well, then, needs to take these contextual features into account and bake them into a theory of human flourishing. By paying careful attention to these contextual factors, we can design systems that promote human flourishing.

Here is my summary:

The paper examines how technological environments can undermine the development of virtuous character traits by shaping situational factors that influence moral behavior, posing a challenge to virtue ethics.

The Situationist critique argues that character traits are less stable and predictive of behavior than virtue ethics assumes. Instead, situational factors like social pressure and environmental cues often have a stronger influence on moral actions.

The authors argue that many modern technologies, from social media to surveillance systems, create situational contexts that can override or undermine the development of virtuous character. For example, technologies that increase social monitoring and evaluation may inhibit moral courage.

They suggest that virtues like honesty, compassion, and integrity may be more difficult to cultivate in technological environments that emphasize efficiency, productivity, and conformity over moral development.

The paper calls for virtue ethicists to grapple with how emerging technologies shape moral behavior, and to develop new approaches that account for the powerful situational influences created by technological systems.

In summary, this research highlights how the Situationist critique poses a significant challenge to traditional virtue ethics by demonstrating how technological environments can undermine the development of stable moral character, requiring new ethical frameworks to address the situational factors shaping human behavior.