Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 633-650

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

And Lead Us (Not) into Persuasion…? Persuasive Technology and the Ethics of Communication

  • Andreas SpahnAffiliated withEthics of Technology, School of Innovation Sciences, Eindhoven University of Technology Email author 


The paper develops ethical guidelines for the development and usage of persuasive technologies (PT) that can be derived from applying discourse ethics to this type of technologies. The application of discourse ethics is of particular interest for PT, since ‘persuasion’ refers to an act of communication that might be interpreted as holding the middle between ‘manipulation’ and ‘convincing’. One can distinguish two elements of discourse ethics that prove fruitful when applied to PT: the analysis of the inherent normativity of acts of communication (‘speech acts’) and the Habermasian distinction between ‘communicative’ and ‘strategic rationality’ and their broader societal interpretation. This essay investigates what consequences can be drawn if one applies these two elements of discourse ethics to PT.


Ethics Persuasive technology Discourse ethics Habermas Speech-act theory Critical theory Persuasion