, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 31–46 | Cite as

If and Then: A Critique of Speculative NanoEthics

  • Alfred NordmannEmail author
Original paper


Most known technology serves to ingeniously adapt the world to the physical and mental limitations of human beings. Humankind has acquired awesome power with its rather limited means. Nanotechnological capabilities further this power. On some accounts, however, nanotechnological research will contribute to a rather different kind of technological development, namely one that changes human beings so as to remove or reduce their physical and mental limitations. The prospect of this technological development has inspired a fair amount of ethical debate. Here, proponents and opponents of such visions of human enhancement are criticized alike for engaging in speculative ethics. This critique exposes a general pattern that extends to other nano-, bio-, or neuroethical debates. While it does not apply to all discussions of “enhancement technologies” it does apply to all ethical discourse that constructs and validates an incredible future which it only then proceeds to endorse or critique. This discourse violates conditions of intelligibility, squanders the scarce and valuable resource of ethical concern, and misleads by casting remote possibilities or philosophical thought-experiments as foresight about likely technical developments. In effect, it deflects consideration from the transformative technologies of the present.


Responsible ethics Imagined futures overwhelm the actual present Technology that adapts the world to limited humans vs. technology as a means to transcend human limits Enhancement effects vs. the enhancement of human capabilities Critiques of the human enhancement discourse Scenario methods Presuppositions vs. long-term consequences of research Identifying potentially transformative research Moving beyond consequentalism and deontology 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für PhilosophieTechnische Universität Darmstadt, SchlossDarmstadtGermany

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