Towards a Global Ethics: The Debate on Nanotechnology in the European Union and China

Dalton-Brown, Sally (2013) Towards a Global Ethics: The Debate on Nanotechnology in the European Union and China. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The primary aim of the thesis is to assess whether ethical governance of Science and Technology is feasible as a global approach, using the example of nanotechnology.

The thesis firstly compares ethical issues identified by stakeholders in China and the EU relating to the rapid introduction of a potentially transformative technology, namely nanotechnology. Part One of this thesis explores how the ‘narratives’ of nanotechnology differ in each region, particularly given their different bioethics contexts, and examines how specific concerns translate into policymaking.

In questioning whether Eastern and Western approaches to nanotechnology governance can be aligned, one can observe that Europe is increasingly cooperating and competing with China. Such new interdependences between global actors require new global approaches to S&T policy, including ethical governance.

Part Two of this thesis explores the concept of ‘global ethics’ and discusses the feasibility of a global approach. Given criticism of both universalism and relativism, it is often argued that a universal approach that takes sufficient account of local context cannot be developed.

On the assumption that global ethics are achieved by global actors, this thesis looks at global agency.

The thesis connects discourse ethics and participatory Technology Assessment (pTA), arguing that a version of Habermasian discourse ethics can provide a theoretical framework for dialogue between West and East. Discourse ethics has developed around Habermas’s argument that social order depends on our capacity to recognize, through rational discourse, the intersubjective validity of different views. Habermas asks the basic question of global ethics, of how different views (particularly of social order) can be universally recognized and agreed, perhaps within an 'ideal community' of communication, one that may be global.

The thesis adds to Habermas’s discourse model, utilising virtue ethics as well as the work of, for example, Taylor, Beck, Korsgaard and others on identity formation. It is argued that the significant factor in global ethics is the formation of the agent’s moral identity, the formation of which requires one to go beyond one’s context, to achieve an intercultural personhood. Habermas (as do Taylor, Beck and others) suggests identity as a dual concept, reflecting an interdependence of society and one’s inner self. This would mean that one can understand the cultural biases inherent in any act of communication, while acting autonomously of such bias.

If such a model of dual identity/agency can be applied to the intercultural dialogue on the governance of nanotechnology between East and West, it could potentially provide a new tool or model within pTA.

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