Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 17–31 | Cite as

Philosophical Aspects of Dual Use Technologies

  • Svitlana V. PustovitEmail author
  • Erin D. Williams
Original Paper


The term dual use technologies refers to research and technology with the potential both to yield valuable scientific knowledge and to be used for nefarious purposes with serious consequences for public health or the environment. There are two main approaches to assessing dual use technologies: pragmatic and metaphysical. A pragmatic approach relies on ethical principles and norms to generate specific guidance and policy for dual use technologies. A metaphysical approach exhorts us to the deeper study of human nature, our intentions, goals, values ideals and social relations when considering dual use technology. Use of science and technology (S and T) is determined by two components of human nature: human intentions and choices. We have drawn a distinction between specific measures, goals and intentions with respect to technologies in order to show that moral judgment about technologies must precede their use. Understanding of our intentionality and values, and our moral ideals, as a measurable, tangible part of the real world is important for the prevention of any possible harm from S and T. In the context of dual use technologies, we stress the importance of three main understandings of human nature: vulnerability, responsibility and narrative identity. These can become a strong ontological “antidote” to technology’s poisoning of modern man. Each new technology can be measured and compared with man’s values, traditions and societal norms. This can be done bearing in mind the concept that human nature is not dualistic, but pluralistic. A system of ethical principles that includes the principles of good intentions, the correspondence of goals and means, the balancing of risks and benefits, simplicity, and contextuality, will help ensure that technologies are more humanistic and friendly to human beings.


Dual use technologies Science and technologies Intention and measure Human nature Ethical principles 



We express our thanks: to professor Andrzej Gorski, organizer of the Warsaw conference ‘The Advancement of Science and the Dilemma of Dual Use: Why We Can`t Afford to Fail’ (9–10 November 2007), where the first draft of the paper was presented; to Professor Raymond Spier for his very important remarks and comments to the manuscript; to Liudmyla Palyey for her help with translation of the manuscript from Russian into English.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentNational Medical Academy of Postgraduate Education named after P. L. ShupykKievUkraine
  2. 2.Congressional Research Service, Library of CongressWashington, D.CUSA

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