Date: 30 May 2008

Dual use and the ethical responsibility of scientists

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Abstract

The main normative problem in the context of dual use is to determine the ethical responsibility of scientists especially in the case of unintended, harmful, and criminal dual use of new technological applications of scientific results. This article starts from an analysis of the concepts of responsibility and complicity, examining alternative options regarding the responsibility of scientists. Within the context of the basic conflict between the freedom of science and the duty to avoid causing harm, two positions are discussed: moral skepticism and the ethics of responsibility by Hans Jonas. According to these reflections, four duties are suggested and evaluated: stopping research, systematically carrying out research for dual-use applications, informing public authorities, and not publishing results. In the conclusion it is argued that these duties should be considered as imperfect duties in a Kantian sense and that the individual scientist should be discharged as much as possible from obligations which follow from them by the scientific community and institutions created for this purpose.