, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 285-293,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 27 Oct 2011

Moral Arguments in the Debate over Nanotechnologies: Are We Talking Past Each Other?


How are we to understand the fact that the philosophical debate over nanotechnologies has been reduced to a clash of seemingly preprogrammed arguments and counterarguments that paralyzes all rational discussion of the ultimate ethical question of social acceptability in matters of nanotechnological development? With this issue as its starting point, the study reported on here, intended to further comprehension of the issues rather than provide a cause-and-effect explanation, seeks to achieve a rational grasp of what is being said through the appeals made to this or that principle in the range of arguments put forward in publications on the subject. We present the results of the study’s analyses in two parts. In the first, we lay out the seven categories of argument that emerged from an analysis of the literature: the arguments based on nature, dignity, the good life, utility, equity, autonomy, and rights. In the second part, we present the background moral stances that support each category of argument. Identifying the different categories of argument and the moral stance that underlies each category will enable a better grasp of the reasons for the multiplicity of the arguments that figure in discussions of the acceptability of nanotechnologies and will ultimately contribute to overcoming the tendency towards talking past each other that all too often disfigures the exchange. Clarifying the implications of the moral arguments deployed in the debate over nanotechnologies may make it possible to reduce the confusion observable in these exchanges and contribute to a better grasp of the reasons for their current unproductiveness.