, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 231-241

Practitioners’ Views on Responsibility: Applying Nanoethics

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Abstract

Significant efforts have been made to define ethical responsibilities for professionals engaged in nanotechnology innovation. Rosalyn Berne delineated three ethical dimensions of nanotechnological innovation: non-negotiable concerns, negotiable socio-cultural claims, and tacitly ingrained norms. Braden Allenby demarcated three levels of responsibility: the individual, professional societies (e.g. engineering codes), and the macro-ethical. This article will explore how these definitions of responsibility map onto practitioners’ understanding of their responsibilities and the responsibilities of others using the nanotechnology innovation community of the greater Phoenix area, which includes academic researchers, investors, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, insurers, attorneys, buyers, and media. To do this we develop a three-by-three matrix that combines Berne’s three dimensions and Allenby’s three levels. We then categorize the ethical responsibilities expressed by forty-five practitioners in semi-structured interviews using these published dimensions and levels. Two questions guide the research: (i) what responsibilities do actors express as theirs and/or assign to other actors and; (ii) can those responsibilities be mapped to the presented ethical frameworks? We found that most of the responsibilities outlined by our respondents concentrate at the professional society + non-negotiable and professional + negotiable intersections. The study moves from a philosophical exploration of ethics to an empirical analysis, exploring strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in the existing nanotechnology innovation network. This opens the door for new practitioners to be introduced in an effort to address responsibilities that are not currently recognized.