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Ethics in Actor Networks, or: What Latour Could Learn from Darwin and Dewey


In contemporary Science, Technology and Society (STS) studies, Bruno Latour’s Actor Network Theory (ANT) is often used to study how social change arises from interaction between people and technologies. Though Latour’s approach is rich in the sense of enabling scholars to appreciate the complexity of many relevant technological, environmental, and social factors in their studies, the approach is poor from an ethical point of view: the doings of things and people are couched in one and the same behaviorist (third person) vocabulary without giving due recognition to the ethical relevance of human intelligence, sympathy and reflection in making responsible choices. This article argues that two other naturalist projects, the non-teleological virtue ethics of Charles Darwin and the pragmatist instrumentalism of John Dewey can enrich ANT-based STS studies, both, in a descriptive and in a normative sense.

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  1. Unless indicated otherwise, all text references to Dewey refer to the collected works edition (Dewey 1996 [1882-1953]). Therein to the parts EW, MW and LW for early, middle & later works, respectively.

  2. Even though Dewey restricts his interpretation of the “interaction” stance strictly to causal interactions.

  3. We believe the term “virtue-ethics” provides a too narrow conception of this body of theories.

  4. Even in a classical Darwinian view “fittest” (in the superlative) is a misleading term since “fit enough” suffices for survival.


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Correspondence to Philipp Dorstewitz.

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Waelbers, K., Dorstewitz, P. Ethics in Actor Networks, or: What Latour Could Learn from Darwin and Dewey. Sci Eng Ethics 20, 23–40 (2014).

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  • Latour
  • Darwin
  • Dewey
  • ANT
  • Morality
  • Naturalistic ethics
  • Technology