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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Do Globalization and Technology Create new Ethical Questions?: The Poverty of Traditional

Harold Sjursen.

Drawing upon the classical and modern tradition of philosophical ethics this paper considers the adequacy of these sources to address the ethical questions posed in this age of global technology. A diverse group of contemporary writers, including Amartya Sen, John Rawls, Edward Said, Martha Nussbaum, Chalmers Johnson, Benjamin Barber, Karl Popper and Hans Jonas are invoked to critique the tradition in this context. The paper finds limitations to a Rawlsian approach and takes issue with the views of Sen and Popper that seem to presume that free trade and the open exchange of information are sufficient to insure a fair, liberal and open society in the technology structured global economy.

Specific topics addressed include the extension of the human power made possible by modern technology and the correlative altered nature of human action; the specific impact of information technology and globalized mass media; the cultural hegemony made possible by the high speed delivery systems; the technological basis of unintended "blowback" phenomena.

The paper generally favors the approach taken by Hans Jonas in his call for a new ethics for a technological future, but expresses misgivings regarding Jonas' suggestion of a heuristics of fear as the means to motivate this project.
What is suggested is that the optimism of Sen, and the rational program of Rawls are both, individually or together, inadequate to sustain the liberal tradition of autonomous free choice with regard to moral and ethical conflicts in the era of a fully developed global free market economy. The incomplete search for an ethics for the technological age proposed by Hans Jonas clearly identifies philosophical issues that must be resolved before the global marketplace can be an arena for ethical decision making.


Harold Sjursen  (United States)
Professor of Philosophy, Director of Liberal Studies
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Polytechnic University

  • Globalization
  • Technology
  • Ethics
Person as Subject
  • Hans Jonas

(30 min Conference Paper, English)