, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 187-201

Nanotechnology — A new field of ethical inquiry?

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Abstract

Parallel to the public discussion on the benefits and risks of nanotechnology, a debate on the ethics of nanotechnology has begun. It has been postulated that a new “nano-ethics” is necessary. In this debate, the — positive as well as negative — visionary and speculative innovations which are brought into connection with nanotechnology stand in the foreground. In this contribution, an attempt is made to discover new ethical aspects of nanotechnology in a more systematic manner than has been the case. It turns out that there are hardly any completely new ethical aspects raised by nanotechnology. It is much rather primarily a case of gradual shifts of emphasis and of relevance in questions which, in principle, are already known and which give reason for ethical discussions on nanotechnology. In a certain manner, structurally novel ethical aspects arise through the important role played by visions in the public discourse. New questions are also posed by the fact that previously separate lines of ethical reflection converge in the field of nanotechnology. The proposal of an independent “nano-ethics”, however, seems exaggerated.