Nanotech Database

Article Title:
Ethics in Nanotechnology: Starting from Scratch?

Ebbesen, Mette

Journal Information:
Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society
Vol. 26, Num. 12


Ebbesen et. al say that the four purposes of their article are "(a) to investigate whether this implies that the discussion of concrete ethical issues in the area of nanotechnology must start from scratch, (b) to identify the ethically relevant features of nanotechnology, (c) to analyze which ethical theories may be used to assess concrete ethical problems of nanotechnology, and (d) to discuss how to integrate the discipline of ethics into the interdisciplinary approach of nanotechnology."

Ebbeson et. al. argue that ethical approach to nanotechnology does not have to be built from scratch. Rather, the intersection between technology and ethics has been covered, certainly by a well-described set of issues around biotechnology. They say readers should "make a clear distinction between, on one hand, the types of ethical problems and the principles for assessing them and, on the other hand, the concrete analysis of assessment. We claim that a reasonably sound knowledge base has already been acquired in the field of biotechnology that can be extended to nanotechnology."

They group the "ethically relevant features of nanotechnology" into three groups: risk problems, privacy problems and problems of transhumanism. All of these, they say, have "parallels within the fields of biotechnology, biology, and genetics" and for each, they adduce examples.

Next, they argue that "a promising approach to the ethics of nanotechnology is so-called principlism (i.e., the claim that a limited number of basic ethical principles are generally accepted). We show that in the ethically relevant features of nanotechnology mentioned above&the general ethical principles of respect for autonomy, integrity, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice are at stake." Again, examples are enumerated. They argue that these principles, derived from Beauchamp and Childress (2001) are cross-cultural.

Ebbesen et. al. further suggest that ethics for nanotechnology must be applied in the political-public-legislative arena and also in the professional arena. A good basis for ethical behavior in biotechnology exists, and can be applied to nanotechnology.