Commentary: Technology as Material Ethics

  • Tsjalling Swierstra
Part of the Issues in Business Ethics book series (IBET, volume 28)


In the case of a train disaster, everyone knows that something is amiss and ethical questions will automatically arise on who was responsible for what and to what degree. But more often, it is not so clear if something has gone wrong with our technologies. Then ethics seems not to play a role. This is not correct. I show how many ethical choices were made during the design stage of the train: the final design realizes some values at the expense of others. Each technology apportions responsibilities in complex ways between people and things. And even a well functioning technology has intended and unintended, foreseen and unforeseen, desirable and undesirable consequences that can affect the rights and interests of people, or that are important for what they see as a good life. If we accept that our lives are greatly determined by the technology around us, it is of paramount importance that we more regularly investigate or scrutinize how that technology helps to shape ourselves and our relationships with others.


Ethical Question Relevant Objective Technical Artefact Maintenance Mechanic Ethical Choice 
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  1. Tenner, E. 1996. Why Things Bite Back. Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.Google Scholar
  2. Verbeek, P.P. 2005. What Things Do. Philosophical Reflections on Technology, Agency and Design. University Park, PA: Pensylvania University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Arts and Social SciencesMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands

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