Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 13–23 | Cite as

The Social Impacts of Nanotechnology: an Ethical and Political Analysis

  • Robert SparrowEmail author


This paper attempts some predictions about the social consequences of nanotechnology and the ethical issues they raise. I set out four features of nanotechnology that are likely to be important in determining its impact and argue that nanotechnology will have significant social impacts in—at least—the areas of health and medicine, the balance of power between citizens and governments, and the balance of power between citizens and corporations. More importantly, responding to the challenge of nanotechnology will require confronting “philosophical” questions about the sort of society we wish to create and the role that technology might play in creating it. This in turn will require developing institutions and processes that allow the public to wield real power in relation to technological trajectories. My ultimate contention is that the immediate task established by the likely social impacts of nanotechnology is not so much to develop an ethics of nanotechnology as to facilitate an ethical conversation about nanotechnology.


Nanotechnology Ethics Social impact 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Philosophy and Bioethics, Faculty of ArtsMonash UniversityVictoriaAustralia

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