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i s r f

b u l l e t i n

_ _ Issue XI

The Ethical and is the Social

Edited by Dr Rachael Kiddey


i s r f

b u l l e t i n

_ _ Issue XI

The Ethical and is the Social


First published November 2016 Copyright Š 2016 Independent Social Research Foundation


TABLE OF CONTENTS Editorial 5 From the Director of Research 8 Economics and Ethics 10 The Professor, The Minister and The Laureate

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Ethics in Economics: Or, More Precisely, the Lack Thereof

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Reframing the Moral Foundations of Classical Political Economy

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Better Humans By Way of Science and Technology?

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EDITORIAL Dr. Rachael Kiddey ISRF Editorial Assistant

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elcome to this – the eleventh – edition of the ISRF Bulletin. This time of year marks changes of all sorts not least for the Centre of Social Ontology which received funding from the ISRF over six years. Funding enabled the group, led by Professor Margaret Archer, to produce a book a year as part of their ‘Social Morphogenesis’ project.1 Partly inspired by the long-standing theme of transformation implicit in the work of Archer and colleagues, this issue is entitled ‘The Ethical and is the Social’; contributions share a common goal which is to combine methodological, conceptual and empirical approaches, drawn from across the social sciences, to improve understanding of society and tackle the challenges we face. Truth be told, this edition is economics heavy but, as contributors variously argue, let this serve a friendly invitation from the rest of social science to economics to embrace the ‘social’ in ‘social science’. As Sheila Dow observes, a major hurdle to economics being reoriented towards its historic, ethically grounded roots is the false notion that it is a purely technical discipline. As the world becomes more complicated (for example, through advancements in technology) the subject matter of economics evolves into an ever more complex beast, therefore it stands to reason, Dow argues, that one (mathematical, modular) approach is unlikely to be suitable. She makes a persuasive case for pluralism, suggesting that without it, economics will remain unable to address important ethical issues, which is precisely the problem imagined and illustrated in this edition’s comic, ‘The Professor, The Minister and The Laureate’ (see pages 15-20). Julie A. Nelson questions whether a paper on economics belongs 1. for further details, see http://socialontology.org/?p=913 5


DR. RACHAEL KIDDEY

in a Bulletin on social research at all. Nelson locates the problem, as have previous contributors to the Bulletin, as being partly the fault of the way economics is taught at university level and points out that, in its current form, economics is not entirely blameless in creating a situation where people believe economic ideology or dogma as ‘fact’, thus producing increasingly self-interested, and arguably unethical, behaviour in the world. But there is hope! Nelson recognises that there are business leaders who maximise profit in order to plough wealth back into good things - nice places to work, environmentally conscious products, for example. Nelson convincingly argues that economics is not beyond repair rather the task is to give it a thorough ethical overhaul. Anthropologist, Chris Gregory, offers just such a way forward in his fascinating article. Identifying that classical political economy missed a trick by not taking into account the effects of kinship on economics, Gregory suggests that ethnographic fieldwork offers a productive way in to better understanding twenty-first century economics. Challenging us to seek the economic heart of the world today, which he argues is Beijing, Gregory suggests economists might follow in the steps of those historical giants of political economy – Quesnay, Engels etc. – by actively observing and speaking with those working in modern day rice fields and living in urban slums. How do they voice economic concerns? As Gregory notes, answers might not guarantee the best questions but they will definitely provide a more realistic context from which to work out what is going on than another mathematical solution, abstract and divorced from communities that economics proffers to understand. As Nelson notes, the dangers of relying too heavily on numbers, models, principles and ‘statistical significance’ at the expense of observing how things actually are on the ground are keenly felt in biomedical sciences. Simone Arnaldi and colleagues aim to address the concept of responsibility in the governance of human enhancement. Their project ‘Responsibility and Human Enhancement: Concepts, implications and assessments’, recently awarded a small grant by the ISRF, seeks to draw together scholarship on responsible science and innovation and literature

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on human enhancement and, using a range of insights from the social sciences, bring to this currently bifurcated literature a more humanised understanding of the values and implications of human enhancement. I hope that you enjoy this edition of the Bulletin.

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FROM THE DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH Dr. Louise Braddock

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ishing to say something about ethics and social science, and being not at all sure where to begin, we at the ISRF editorial team allowed our unconscious its say and it helpfully produced an association to ‘the personal is political’. Understood as an identity-claim, in our case the association suggests, equivalently, ‘the ethical is social’ or, ‘the social is ethical’; since identity is symmetrical, it actually doesn’t matter which except rhetorically. What does matter is that, accepting the identity, that the two can’t be prised apart conceptually; neither the social practice of investigation nor its social object of investigation can be divested of their ethical character. Indeed, once one has articulated this it becomes a bit hard to see why it could be contentious. The Greek noun ethos from which ‘ethics’ derives includes in its meaning both the (social) idea of custom and the (individual) idea of character. ‘How should one live?’, the fundamental question of ethics attributed to Socrates, is thus one that joins the individual to other individuals right from the start. As the philosopher Bernard Williams points out, ethical egoism1, the doctrine which answers Socrates’ question by advocating that each individual should pursue their own selfinterest is only, on this view, formally an ethical one (in giving a general answer to the reflective question). Expanding the point a little, and drawing further on Williams, individual members of the species homo sapiens share not only physical characteristics but ‘are alike in other respects more likely to be forgotten’. 2 Williams is writing of human feelings and emotions, the capacity for which is common to us all and which are integral to the social relating of 1. Williams, Bernard. 1985. Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, Fontana, pp. 12 2. Williams, Bernard. 1973. ‘The Idea of Equality’. Problems of the Self. Cambridge University Press, pp. 232

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FROM THE DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH

human beings. These simple considerations capture, as Williams no doubt intended, what most people ordinarily reflective about Socrates’ question would sign up to: a life that takes sufficient account of other people. Few of us would want to live in a world that was, in this sense, non-ethical, and it is indeed a puzzle why it is so hard to dislodge the conviction held ‘in certain quarters’ that such a world, even with modifications intended to capture elements of our attitudes to others that might bear on our rational calculations, can form a model for our own. Since we at the foundation have no ready answer to this puzzle (although we daily ponder these matters) we are pursuing ‘business as usual’ with respect to our funding activities after our recent, but not only, sortie into the battlefield of economics. The recent calls directed to economics and political economy reflect a founding concern of the ISRF. This does not displace our funding of research across the social sciences, where we hope to provide with our modest resources what we are more and more being told is valued: the time and opportunity to think without having to say in advance what one will think, or what one will produce. The opportunity, as Marilyn Strathern put it in her recent video talk3, for ‘the cultivation of surprise’.

3. See ISRF Noticeboard, 4th July 2016: http://www.isrf.org/ noticeboard/#trickingoneself 9


ECONOMICS AND ETHICS Professor Sheila Dow Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Stirling; Adjunct Professor of Economics, University of Victoria, Canada; Co-editor of Economic Thought

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ne of the greatest barriers to meaningful debate within and about economics has been the successful mainstream rhetoric that economics is a technical subject. Where economics is presented as a science, ethical considerations are deemed to belong to non-science. According to this view, the economist’s role is to produce technical results to be handed over as expert advice to policy makers, for them to use according to their (separable) ethical principles. Where the issue of ethics has arisen within mainstream academic economics, it has tended to refer to the kind of generic academic ethics applied by funding bodies, employers of consultants and publication outlets: not to plagiarise, to declare conflicts of interest, not to be abusive, and so on. While important in themselves, these are ethics of personal behaviour which are considered to be independent of research methodology and research content. But ethical responsibilities have come to the fore in public discourse in the wake of the recent financial and economic crisis. Given the real consequences of the crisis and their uneven distribution, questions arise as to how far economists are morally culpable. Not only did mainstream economists fail to alert the authorities to the forces leading towards crisis, but their theories had equipped financial market players with the technical skills to stoke the system’s vulnerability to crisis. Moral issues continue to arise, given the policy advice in favour of fiscal austerity which came from the same economists. The nature and role of expert advice raise moral

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issues surrounding the status of economic knowledge itself. There is clearly more scope for ethical issues to arise in economics than implied by narrow generic academic ethics. In order to consider this scope we raise issue with the notion of economics as a purely technical discipline and explore the implications for ethics in relation to economics as a whole and in relation to the responsibilities of individual economists. There has for some time been growing academic interest in considering ethics and economics in this wider sense, such that there is now a body of resources by which to address these issues, such as the Handbook of Economics and Ethics. 1 Meanwhile, George De Martino had spearheaded discussion of the possibility that economists, like other professional groupings, might be required to sign an oath which established ethical standards. 2 A range of perspectives on such a possibility and related issues was published in the Oxford Handbook on Professional Economic Ethics.3 Ethical issues enter at the level of how economic knowledge is produced. Where mainstream economics textbooks refer at all to methodology, it is to a logical positivist approach whereby economists derive positive propositions and test them against independent facts. While Hume had simply pointed out the distinction between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ statements, modern mainstream economists assert that economics is only concerned with the former.4 It is not that economists do not seek to contribute to the betterment of society – most do – but rather that this is to be done by producing useful, empirically-validated positive statements.5 The 1. Peil, J and van Staveren, I (2009) Handbook of Economics and Ethics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar 2. De Martino, G (2011) The Economist’s Oath: on the need for and content of professional economic ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 3. De Martino, G and McCloskey, D N (eds), OUP Handbook on Professional Economic Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 4. See further: Van de Laar, E and Peil, J (2009) ‘Positive versus normative economics’, in Peil and van Staveren, op. cit., pp. 374-82; and Davis, J B (2016) ‘Economists’ odd stand on the positive-normative distinction’, in De Martino and McCloskey, op. cit., pp. 200-18. 5. Waterman explores the efforts in the nineteenth century to develop positive economics to supplant normative political economy: Waterman, A M C (1994) ‘’Whately, Senior, and the Methodology of Classical Economics’, in H G Brennan and A M C 11


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resulting methodology is seen as defining the discipline, effectively ruling out other approaches. But modern economics began, with Hume among others, as a moral science within the field of moral philosophy; ethics were integral to economic reasoning.6 It is not then a question of whether it is desirable to strip economics of ethics, but rather whether it is actually possible to do so. As Kayatekin argues with respect to Hume: ‘to the extent economic behaviour is determined by passions such as greed, benevolence and pleasure, we cannot separate economic activity and morality’. 7 The theoretical framework itself determines how values are discussed. Thus ethical concepts such as trust and moral hazard are analysed in mainstream theory in terms of incentives and self-interest, while elsewhere they are analysed in terms of institutions and social conventions.8,9 Inevitably policy advice too is formulated in terms of the framework employed, an important issue for example for banking reform in the wake of the crisis. Ethical judgements are thus embedded even in apparentlytechnical mainstream models, and in concepts such as efficiency.10 Within a mainstream framework, market competition is presumed to ensure that labour and capital are paid the value of their marginal product, justifying the pattern of income distribution, for example. Similarly, mainstream theory supports promotion of free trade on the grounds that it produces a net increase in welfare, i.e. where losers could in principle be compensated by winners, even if compensation does not actually take place. The embeddedness of moral values is even more apparent beyond the mainstream, where Waterman (eds), Economics and Religion: Are They Distinct? Boston: Kluwer, pp. 41-60. 6. Dow, S C (2009) ‘David Hume and Modern Economics’, Capitalism and Society, 4(1), Article 1, 2009. http://www.bepress.com/cas/vol4/iss1/art1 7. Kayatekin, S A (2014) ‘The relation of morality to political economy in Hume’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 38: p. 605. 8. Nooteboom, B J (2009) ‘Trust’, in Peil and van Staveren, op. cit., pp. 547-54 9. Dow, S C (2012) ‘Economics and Moral Sentiments: The Case of Moral Hazard’, in J C Caldas and V Neves (eds), Facts, Values and Objectivity. London: Routledge, pp. 17-32. 10. Van Staveren, I (2009) ‘Efficiency’, in Peil and van Staveren, op. cit., pp. 107-14. 12


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market forces are analysed as being as much matters of power and social convention as they are about price incentives. This brings us to the ethics of the economist herself, as researcher, as teacher, as consultant and as policy adviser. The first implication of economics being a moral science is that it is unethical to present economic propositions as separable from ethics.11 Theory is contestable, not just in relation to alternatives, but also in relation to its moral presuppositions. It is therefore incumbent on the economist to be explicit about the ethics embedded in her theorising and to be prepared to engage in debate about them. But the responsibility extends further to being open about the limitations of any one approach to economics. This requires the economist to be prepared to explain and defend her approach relative to alternatives. Unfortunately the mainstream approach to economics as a technical subject precludes debate about ethical presuppositions as irrelevant. Yet logical positivism can no longer be sustained in economics (just as the philosophy of science has long since left it behind). This is not just because theory is imbued with ethics; it is also a matter of epistemology. If the subject matter of economics is complex and evolving, no one approach can hope to deal with the whole. Where knowledge is uncertain, and different understandings are possible, pluralism provides the most robust disciplinary strategy. Different groupings of economists focus on particular aspects of that complexity according to their ontology, and understand evidence in their own way. 12 If the truth of propositions cannot be demonstrated, but is rather a matter of persuasion, the economist has a much broader ethical responsibility than simply revealing the values embedded in theory, challenging though that is.13 To engage in honest debate with other researchers, and as a consultant or policy adviser, the economist 11. Dow, S C (2015) ‘The Role of Belief in the Case for Austerity Policies’, Economic and Labour Relations Review 26 (March): 29-42. 12. Dow, S C (2004) ‘Structured Pluralism’, Journal of Economic Methodology, 11 (3): 275-90. 13. Dow, S C (2016) ‘Codes of Ethics for Economists: A Pluralist View’, in De Martino and McCloskey, Op. Cit., pp. 750-63. 13


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has a moral responsibility to acknowledge the limitations of her knowledge, and to explain and defend her approach relative to others. The same moral responsibility applies to the economist as teacher. To educate young scholars to be morally responsible economists in the face of epistemic challenges, the economics teacher needs to equip them to understand and choose between different approaches. According to this type of analysis, the moral opprobrium in which economists were held after the crisis was due to a number of ethical blind spots: economic arguments were presented as definitive, without the show of modesty more appropriate given the epistemological challenges; the arguments were presented as technical, as if there was no ethical content; the responsibility was not recognised to be transparent about ethical content; and the responsibility was not recognised to explain and defend the chosen approach in relation to alternative approaches. Rather than retreating into an unsustainable defense that economics is scientific and therefore free of ethical considerations, economists should aim to rebuild trust in the profession by accepting that more robust knowledge will arise from addressing the ethical content of the subject and opening it up to debate. The professional ethic of tolerance of different approaches is critical. But nonmainstream economics, with its openness to addressing ethical issues, needs to be recognised by the mainstream as economics. The epistemological argument for pluralism needs to be accepted for the principle of tolerance to have substance.

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THE PROFESSOR, THE MINISTER AND THE LAUREATE Dr Rachael Kiddey & Mats Brate

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DR RACHAEL KIDDEY & MATS BRATE

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THE PROFESSOR, THE MINISTER AND THE LAUREATE

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DR RACHAEL KIDDEY & MATS BRATE

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THE PROFESSOR, THE MINISTER AND THE LAUREATE

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DR RACHAEL KIDDEY & MATS BRATE

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ETHICS IN ECONOMICS: OR, MORE PRECISELY, THE LACK THEREOF Professor Julie A. Nelson Professor of Economics, College of Liberal Arts, University of Massachusetts Boston

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oes a chapter on economics even belong in an issue on Ethics in Social Research? The “social” label is one with which, I think, many practitioners of economics would not easily identify. We might grudgingly admit to being within the realm of the “social sciences” but we put the emphasis is on the “science” part. Most economists, rather than seeing ourselves as studying communities of human beings, pretend to a more physics-like discipline. We model market, national, and international phenomenon using ideas of presumably universal “principles,” “laws,” and “forces.” We consider extreme mathematicization, as well as distance from normative concerns, to be signs of objectivity and rigor. Social research, we think, is for the sociologists. Normative arguments are for philosophers. And this is precisely why serious discussions of ethics in economic research are far, far overdue. A small crack in this “ethics are not our problem” edifice appeared after the financial crisis in 2008. Media coverage, including the movie Inside Job, revealed cases of, for example, the crass slanting of economic “research” results to fit a funder’s requirements. A very modest amount of self-reflection resulted, resulting in more attention to disclosure of sources of funds. Much bigger ethical issues, however, are yet to be addressed. The first, and most important, is the way in which certain core

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economic doctrines have infiltrated, and caused widespread damage to, academic and public discussion. Ideas that originated with economists have “poisoned the well” from which we now draw our ideas of appropriate personal, organizational, and national behavior.1 This is having severely detrimental effects on human life on the planet. My second, more inward-looking critique, has to do with the sham nature of much of our “science.” Poisoning the Well Economics 101 teaches that people act out of rational, individual self-interest, that the essence of business firms is to maximize profit, and that the measure of success in national policy is a growing GDP per capita. These teachings have become increasingly performative. That is, while they originally purported to merely describe the world, they are increasing shaping people’s behavior and the structure of organizations. Some research has suggested, for example, that the study of Econ 101 tends to encourage self-interested behavior. The model of the economic agent as a self-interested, rational, autonomous individual utility-maximizer can make “looking out for number one” seem like a reasonable—and even the only reasonable—norm for behavior in economic life. In my economics classes, I increasingly find students willing to behave opportunistically, on the reasoning that if they don’t take advantage of a situation, someone else will. They are quite unapologetic about it, believing that this is simply the way the world works, and that to do otherwise would be foolish. The “businesses maximize profit” story has even more thoroughly poisoned the conceptual well from which, it seems, we all drink. There is, of course Milton Friedman’s famous dictum, “Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a 1. Nelson, Julie A. (2016). Poisoning the Well, or How Economic Theory Damages Moral Imagination. The Oxford Handbook of Professional Economic Ethics. G. DeMartino and D. McCloskey. Oxford, Oxford Univesity Press: 184-199. 22


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social responsibility other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible”.2 The idea that businesses have a single, narrow financial goal is now repeated ad nauseam in the business and popular press, as well as forming the foundation for teaching in economics and management. The widening chasm between the compensation of Chief Executive Officers and ordinary workers in the United States was spurred by the economic theory that CEOs must be “incentivized” to act in the interest of shareholders. Yet the damage goes much further. Many critics of corporate abuses and rising inequality now also subscribe to the economistcreated dogma about the essence of business. Arguing the case for an ethics of justice and sustainability from a Buddhist point of view, for example, David Loy argues that “Corporations are legally charted so that their first responsibility is not to their employees or customers, nor to other members of the societies they are part of, nor to the ecosystems of the earth, but to those who own them, who with very few exceptions are concerned primarily about return on investment”.3 As a result, most aspirations for “alternative economies” tend to veer towards utopian or state-directed visions of communitarianism that are of limited practical value. The message seems to be, from both right and left, that business is -by its very nature-an ethics-free, and care-free, sphere. And this pernicious doctrine continues to spread, even beyond the business sphere. One recent article, for example, proclaimed “Whether we like it or not, colleges and universities are a business. They sell education to customers….While the typical for-profit firm tries to maximize its profit, non-profit universities generally try to maximize their endowments or operating revenue…”.4 Even thinking about nations has been contaminated: applying to nations the economists’ dictum that only actions that serve self-interest will be chosen, Posner and Weisbach argue that global climate “justice” 2. Friedman, Milton (1982). Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago, University of Chicago Press., p. 133 3. Loy, David R. (2015). A New Buddhist Path: Enlightenment, Evolution, and Ethics in the Modern World. Boston, Wisdom publications., p. 122 4. Brennan, Jason and Phillip Magness (2016). “Estimating the Cost of Justice for Adjuncts: A Case Study in University Business Ethics.” Journal of Business Ethics. 23


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will likely involve poorer nations, who are feeling this environmental crisis first, making payments to richer ones, to compensate them for the loss of GDP they will suffer by taking action.5 These narrow, doctrinaire, and ethically scandalous claims could - and should - seem ridiculous to anyone with a modicum of social sophistication and humanistic sensibility. But even if you put ethics aside, standard economics doctrines don’t stand up to a pragmatically and empirically grounded view of the world. Any serious, grounded analysis shows that economic systems actually require a good deal of concern with ethics, interpersonal trust, and other-regarding behavior to function well. Purely opportunistic personal behavior, far from driving a market system, actually destroys it. Moving to the organizational level, the widespread belief that profit maximization is required by corporate charters, or by other legal or economic mandates, is actually false.6 Even when leaders of corporations may seem to be trying to “maximize” something, in practice profits for shareholders is generally not the goal. Personal wealth and/or expansion for expansion’s sake are far more frequent, among the possible self-interested goals. The profit-maximization story also obfuscates socially positive business goals, supported by many leaders who have a broader and more long-term perspective. These include providing useful, healthy products; creating good places to work; promoting environmental sustainability; and supporting innovation. Among non-profits, some leaders act like self-interested business executives, but some still try to educate, promote health, or serve another social purpose. While short-sighted national self-interest may include a concern for GDP per capita, aspirations related to territorial power and pride seem to be at least as prominent. Taking a longer-term view, national interests clearly must include attaining the sort of global cooperation needed to seriously address climate change. 5. Posner, Eric A. and David Weisbach (2010). Climate Change Justice. Princeton, Princeton University Press, p. 86 6. Stout, Lynn (2012). The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public. San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler. 24


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Businesses, non-profits, and nations are social communities of humans, with all the complexity that this implies. A more accurate and balanced understanding of human personal and organizational behavior as including both reasonable self-interest and reasonable care-for others and for the natural environment offers, I believe, our best chance for a survivable future.7 So why do the economic ideologies have so much power? One explanation is that since such teachings serve the short-term interest of various wealthy and powerful parties, they can receive well-funded dissemination via education and the media. Yet there is another important reason: The effective disguising of economic doctrines as “scientific.” Pretending to be a “Hard Science” Good science can be described as a process of systematic and open-minded investigation. Results should be carefully and intelligently compared to evidence brought forth from a wide and diverse community of investigators before being accepted as reliable. Models should be presented as what they really are: devices that some groups of humans have found to be useful for examining some particular set of issues. Examined in light of these standards, much of economics is a sham science. Instead of being open-minded about our core models, assumptions, and methods, we have made narrow selections and then allowed these to harden into dogma. There is a clear “macho” bias in preferring explanations based on self-interest to consideration of community interest, preferring mathematical analysis to qualitative analysis, preferring consideration of rational motivations to inclusion of emotional ones, and so on. In our textbooks, we teach our narrow models as revealed truth, rather than as limited tools. Instead of seriously evaluating the reliability of our knowledge, we follow established habits of claiming “rigor,” based on the mathematics of our models and on econometric 7. Nelson, Julie A. (2016a). “Husbandry: a (feminist) reclamation of masculine responsibility for care.” Cambridge Journal of Economics 40(1): 1-15. 25


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“tests.” The recent popularity of Randomized Control Trials has tended to revitalize a belief that objectivity can be achieved by simply following formulaic rules, with little attention to context or to the possibility of implicit biases. I could point out how these biases comprise economic practice with many examples, but for brevity let me focus on just one. Recently, there has been a growing awareness in many fieldsparticularly in the biomedical sciences and in psychology-about the dangers of using “statistical significance” to decide which results are worthy of dissemination. The notion of rejecting null hypotheses based on p-values had been, for a long time, taken as the definition of “rigor” in empirical practice. Yet, as is now being shown, the following of such simplistic, mindless rules can actually cause severe distortions to arise in a literature. With many variations in data samples and model specifications open to most researchers, “p-hacking” to create publishable results has become rife. In a recent meta-analysis I undertook of the economics literature on preferences for risk-taking, I found not only publication bias (a preference towards statistically significant results), but also confirmation bias (a preference for results which confirm an author’s own stereotypes about gendered behavior).8 Yet I have seen little action within the economics profession, much less within economics education, to - honestly and ethically - face up to the fact that our customary beliefs about “rigor” are seriously flawed. Conclusion We seriously undermine the ability of the economy to do its job - that is, to provide for the sustaining and flourishing of life - if we continue to imagine it as an ethics-free and care-free sphere. Economic dogma, misleadingly presented as scientific and widely disseminated through education and the media, is largely to blame for this damage. The field of economics is far overdue for a thorough-going ethical wake-up call. 8. Nelson, Julie A. (2014). “The Power of Stereotyping and Confirmation Bias to Overwhelm Accurate Assessment: The Case of Economics, Gender, and Risk Aversion.” Journal of Economic Methodology 21(3): 211-231. 26


REFRAMING THE MORAL FOUNDATIONS OF CLASSICAL POLITICAL ECONOMY A perspective from economic anthropology Dr Chris Gregory Adjunct Fellow in Anthropology, Australian National University.

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negative critique of the mathematical - and hence amoral - assumptions of mainstream economics is a necessary but not sufficient condition for reframing the moral foundations of economics. A positive critique of the historical, geographical and anthropological - and hence moral - assumptions of classical political economy is needed but this will require the empiricallygrounded work of scholars from many disciplines. Academic debate is ultimately about the explanatory adequacy of competing theories but what assumptions of classical political economy need transcending in order to develop a constructive alternative to mainstream economics? Classical political economy is that lineage of European economic thought that has it beginnings in work of Quesnay on 18th century France and its rise in the work of Smith, Ricardo and Marx on late 18th and early 19th century England. This tradition of thought, which was expressed in the language of commodities, is based on a theory of value that privileges productive labour. Mainstream economics quite literally changed the terms of debate in the late 19th century by introducing a transhistorical and transnational theory of goods based on a marginal utility theory of value that

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privileges the problem of choice faced by a rational consumer. This theory of value is the dominant orthodoxy today despite Sraffa’s mid-20th century attempt to rehabilitate the old terms of debate in his Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities: Prelude to a Critique of Economic Theory (1960). Only a moment’s reflection is needed to realise that classical political economy is grounded in the historically specific problems of 18th and 19th century European agricultural production and industry. In the agrarian economy of Quesnay’s time debate centred on relative efficiency of capitalist versus peasant farming methods in Northern France. Code Napoleon, which transformed agricultural land into a commodity, resolved the debate in favour of the peasantry; sellers of land found that they could get more money by dividing land up into small plots than selling it as one consolidated plot. Thus began 200 years of debate about the ‘differentiation of the peasantry’ in Europe. In England the landed aristocracy were, paradoxically, the agents of the capitalist development in English agriculture. Primogeniture and entailment prevented land from coming onto the market. This enabled largescale capitalist farming methods to flourish alongside industry. Marx’s analysis of the process of capitalist reproduction, which focussed on the rent-paying capitalist farmer and the industrialist, owed much to Engels’ ethnographic researches in Manchester. Engels, the son of wealthy cotton mill owner and the lover of Mary Burns an Irish worker in his father’s factory, led a double life as participant observer of the social world of both capitalists and workers in Manchester in 1842-44. His findings, published in 1845 in his Conditions of the Working Class in England, enabled Marx to develop a more generalised picture of capitalist reproduction by situating the specificities of Engel’s researches in a comparative and historical context. Marx’s conceptual framework builds on Quesnay’s circular flow model. The reproduction schemas in Volume II of Capital, where the complexities of capitalism are reduced to a two-department model of the inter-relationship between agriculture and industry, develop Quesnay’s ‘Economic Table.’ Marx’s model of the reproduction of things (e.g. wheat

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and iron) by means of things and labour posed anew the problem of how heterogeneous objects are valued and of the effect of the distribution of income on wages and prices. In the agrarian economies studied by Quesnay and Ricardo this problem did not arise because an agrarian surplus can be measured in physical terms by the wheat rate of profit i.e., the ratio of tons of wheat produced for each ton of seed planted. Sraffa’s mathematical solution to a minor technical aspect of the value problem, which presupposes an analogous yield ratio of iron1 for the industrial sector and an economy in a self-replacing state, shows how an average between the two physical profit ratios for wheat and iron can be calculated. Sraffa’s book, intended as a prelude to a critique of marginal utility theory, has become the opposite, an epitaph to a vanquished tradition of thought that has its origins in the historically and geographically specific conditions of 18th and 19th century Europe. The task we confront now is not to defend this mode of thought but to critique it by using the same historical, geographical and ethnographic methods that took us from Quesnay to Sraffa via Smith, Engels and Marx. Whereas Sraffa’s prelude to critique was backward looking and concerned to rehabilitate Quesnay’s conceptual framework of by focussing on narrow technical questions of value, the task now is to look ahead and to rehabilitate a broader socio-political conception of the value problem. We can do this by asking a simple question, ‘Where is the geographical centre of economic gravity today?’ This question has a relatively simple answer that history can elucidate but with analytical implications that are far from simple. 1. This analogy is false. In botanical and biological processes physical inputs are reproduced as homogenous physical outputs but not in the case of industry which is a one-way process of transformation. Thus rice planted as seed reproduces rice as an output than can serve as next year’s input. Iron does not reproduce iron as an output as Sraffa’s examples presume; it produces steel, a radically different product. A blast furnace is needed to transform iron ore into molten steel slabs which are then cooled and rolled to produce steel products of different kinds. Sraffa’s model, like Ricardo’s has only one basic industry: wheat. His mathematical solution to Marx’s problem (which he identifies in the Appendix to his slim book), is a brilliant error; the problem has no mathematical solution as Ricardo correctly surmised. 29


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A quick tour of Manchester and Beijing today is sufficient to grasp the scope of the problem we face in trying to rehabilitate classical political economy. Manchester has become an industrial graveyard of the kind that needs the help of an industrial archaeologist to explain. Beijing, with its 19th century Manchester skies, is not yet the world centre of political and economic power but is fast becoming so. The slow de-industrialisation of Europe over the past century and the rapid industrialisation of Asia over the past few decades means that we must now begin to look towards Asia via Wall Street if, like the classical political economists of old, we want to keep our eye on the main game. Once we locate ourselves in the rice fields of monsoon Asia it becomes apparent how wheat-centric - as opposed to Eurocentric - classical political economy is. Sraffa’s notion of a wheat rate of profit is what grain agronomists call the ‘yield ratio.’ For example, a single wheat plant that produces an ear of wheat containing 10 grains would have a yield ratio of 1:10. In European countries up to 1800 the yield ratio of wheat was between 1:2 to 1:7, jumping some to 1:11 during the industrial revolution. In Asia the yield ratio for rice has been in excess of 1:100 since ancient times. In other words, whereas a single wheat plant produced between 2 and 7 grains, a single rice plant produced upwards of 100 grains. This is because rice, an aquatic crop, is the most extraordinary grass ever cultivated by homo sapiens. The social consequences have been profound. It is the reason why the population density of Asia exceeds Europe by a ratio of around 10 to 1. Furthermore it means that wheat cultivation is, by its very nature, capital-intensive. The relatively low yields for wheat means that more land and machines are needed to produce it. Unlike rice which can be harvested by hand, threshed by hand, and turned into food by the simple act boiling, wheat must be threshed by machine, ground into flour, and baked as bread in an oven before it can be eaten. Wheat is a hard coarse grain that lacerates the palms when handled. Rice is, by its very nature, labour intensive. In the transplantation method of farming each plant is individually handled during the sowing period and the early growing period requires large amounts of labour to weed the

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crop. Historically this work has been done by women which has given female labour a value it does not have in millet and wheat farming areas. The social implications of this fact can be seen in the demographic data for contemporary India: sex-selective abortions are common in the millet and wheat growing ecological zones in the west reducing the sex ratio of the number of females per 1000 males to below 800 in some areas; in the rice areas, by contrast, the sex ratio is around 1:1. The green revolution has sent the yield ratio of rice skyrocketing and is transforming Asia but farm size remains small, with most farms 2 hectares or fewer. It has always been thus, a striking contrast to the land tenure system of England and France and one that has implications for food security. Family businesses are the norm in Asia too, which draws attention to the partial nature of the concept of reproduction that informs classical political economy. An economic concept of the reproduction of things presupposes a concept of the reproduction of labour. Anthropologists call the latter kinship and it is something that classical political economy simply ignores. Integrating the values of kinship into classical political economy opens up many new areas for research. For example, family businesses constitute some 60-70% of businesses in Europe and employ some 40-50% of labour in the private sector. Such firms range in size from the small family business favoured by many migrant communities to the huge firms owned by elite families. The social structure of a family firm often gives them competitive advantages over nonfamily businesses in the form of interest-free loans for start-up capital from relatives, the ability to call on sons or daughters to work long hours for no pay except in the form of food and lodging, and so on. Inheritance and succession is a major problem for elite families. Classical political economy did not address the politico-economic and moral issues that primogeniture and legal entailment in England posed but we err if, like them, we arbitrarily exclude such matters as beyond the scope of political economy. Piketty, in his Capital in the Twenty-First Century, rightly draws our attention to the emergence of a new ‘patrimonial capitalism’ today among the top ‘1%’.

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Working class people, too, have families, something of great importance today as migration and new modes of communication transform the local households of yesteryear into the transnational families of today. Intra-familial transfers are the norm for transnational migrants from poor countries, with the result that global remittances are now reckoned to be more than twice the global flows of foreign aid. The microeconomic considerations must, of course, be seen in the light of other macroeconomic changes such as the post-1971 development of global finance and the emerging currency wars between USA and China. Both demand an historically and geographically grounded analysis of the value question that takes us beyond the abstract mathematical theorising to which the value problem has been reduced by late 20th century economic thought. Price is an abstract quantitative relationship but it has, since the beginning of commercial time, also been a matter of great political significance as buyer and seller have now agreed, now disagreed, in their face-to-face negotiations over the fairness of the prices. Classical concerns with disputes over the fairness of wages, usurious interest rates, exorbitant rents, and high prices of bread in the times of famine continue to be relevant but in new institutional dress as, for example, the subprime lending crisis illustrates. But we err again if we allow the terms of the old debate between political economy and economics—commodities versus goods, labour value versus marginal utility—to constrain our thought. The task is to pose new questions using a new language relevant to the 21st century. Answering old questions is a relatively easy task but posing new ones in a relevant conceptual language is an exceptionally difficult one that requires a certain humility. Quesnay developed his questions from first-hand observations of wheat farming practices in 18th century France and Engels developed his from double life as a participant observer of 19th century industrial Manchester. Fieldwork in the rice fields, urban slums and financial centres of Asia listening to the way farmers, slum dwellers and financiers give voice to their economic problems may not guarantee that the best questions are posed but the results

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of such investigations, when situated in the historical geography of the 21st century, have a much better chance of creating food for creative thought than a new abstract mathematical solution to an old quantitative value problem. Political economy is not an exact science. As Aristotle noted in Ethics (1.iii) long ago, ‘it is the mark of a trained mind never to expect more precision in the treatment of any subject than the nature of that subject permits.’ We have to face the fact that the historical geography of people is a dammed nuisance because it is always rendering new theories obsolete and throwing up new unexpected problems in new places. One important legacy of classical political economy that must be rehabilitated is the notion of an economy in a self-replacing state. If the agrarian economies of old satisfied these conditions then the advent of industrial production in 19th century Europe has sent planet earth down a path of environmental destruction. Selfreplacement is a value that humanity at large must take seriously if we are to avoid Keynes’s warning about all being dead in the long run.

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BETTER HUMANS BY WAY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY? Ethics, social sciences and responsibility in the governance of human enhancement Dr. Simone Arnaldi et al Co-authors: Dr Arianna Ferrari, Dr Guido Gorgoni, Dr Darian Meacham & Dr Toni Pustovrh

T

he debate on human enhancement, i.e. intentional effort to improve individuals’ performance with the help of technical or biomedical interventions, has mainly centred on contrasting characterizations about either its moral legitimacy or technical plausibility. In the broader domain of science and technology policy, the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) approach has emerged, demanding that science and technology be responsive to the needs, values and goals of society. Our project aims to combine these two streams of literature, examining what responsibility means in the governance of technologies for improving the human body and developing tools through which social actors can articulate their ethical and social considerations. Social sciences can provide tools for engaging societal actors and making their voices heard in the innovation process, so that mutual responsibility can be built between all the actors involved in the innovation. In the 2016 Olympic games, doping got its fair share of headlines. Though highly specific, doping in elite sport is a familiar example of using science and technologies, in this case drugs, to improve the performance of the human body. This intentional effort to improve

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individuals’ performance with the help of technical or biomedical interventions has been labelled ‘human enhancement’. 1 In the most extreme versions, the type and effects of these interventions have sometimes resembled science fiction, with stories about mind uploading, physical immortality, or mergers with artificial superintelligences. While these examples can be seen, at best, as something removed from real world problems and everyday life, exoskeletons, implants, and genetic engineering are certainly contemporary technological possibilities, which already have (or may have in the near future) enhancing applications. Beyond sport, the use of pharmaceuticals for performance improvement has already entered many different spheres of life, e.g. the military, the labour market and education, in the form of off-label drug use to improve cognitive or physical performance. For instance, reports of the use of prescription stimulants as study aids among college students, 2,3 have raised issues of addiction and long-term safety, which have surfaced in the mainstream media as well.4 The possibility and legitimacy of enhancing ourselves have generated a heated public debate. A recent report from the Pew Center illustrated that by quite large margins the American public is more worried than optimistic about using biotechnology to enhance human performance. 5,6 It would nonetheless be fair to say that both public and academic debate on the matter has stalled over conflicting characterizations of enhancement in terms of its desirability and plausibility. Simply put, the scientific 1. Sauter, A., and K Gerlinger. 2013. The pharmacologically improved human. Performance-enhancing substances as a social challenge. Berlin: TAB. 2. Teter, C.J., S.E. McCabe, K. LaGrange, J.A.and Boyd Cranford, and C. J. 2006. Illicit Use of Specific Prescription Stimulants Among College Students: Prevalence, Motives, and Routes of Administration. Pharmacotherapy: The Journal of Human Pharmacology and Drug Therapy 26: 1501–1510. doi:doi:10.1592/phco.26.10.1501. 3. Pustovrh, Toni. 2014. Pharmaceutical Cognitive Enhancement Among Slovenian University Students. In Teorija in Praksa, 51:832–849. 5 4. Cox, David. 2013. Is modafinil safe in the long term? The Guardian, May 31. 5. The Pew report focused on three technologies, gene editing, brain chip implants and synthetic blood. 6. Funk, Cary, Kennedy, Brian and Elizabeth Sciupac. 2016. Pew Research Center, July, 2016, “U.S. Public Way of Biomedical Technologies to ‘Enhance’ Human Abilities”. Available at http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/07/26/human-enhancementthe-scientific-and-ethical-dimensions-of-striving-for-perfection/ (Accessed Sept. 30, 2016). 35


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and public discussions have focused on two questions: Is human enhancement ethical? Is human enhancement feasible? The first question - Is human enhancement ethical? - points to the moral legitimacy of enhancement. Some critics consider enhancement as a violation of human nature7,8, while others point at the possible disruption of society and polity9, addressing, for instance, issues of equity10 and safety.11 The advocates of human enhancement maintain instead that enhancement would mean greater freedom to improve the quality of lives12, and to benefit society as a whole.13 The second question - is human enhancement feasible? - relates to plausibility of many of the scientific and technological visions that have been introduced into the public discourse as possible future enhancements. These visionary enhancement narratives have been accused of determinism, as they often take for granted the development of technologies, applications and consequences that are all but certain14,15, thus misleading a constructive public debate. Still others have contested this claim, claiming that uncertainty does not justify a preference for precaution over proaction.16 Despite its vivacity, these conflicting characterizations of HE, bifurcated in terms of desirability and plausibility, have led the debate to a stalemate, with little dialogue between opposing 7. Kass, Leon R. 2003. Ageless Bodies, Happy Souls: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Perfection. The New Atlantis: 9–28. 8. Sandel, Michael J. 2007. The case against perfection: ethics in the age of genetic engineering. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 9. Fukuyama, Francis. 2003. Our posthuman future: consequences of the biotechnological revolution. 1. Picador ed. New York: Picador. 10. Garcia, Tamara, and Ronald Sandler. 2008. Enhancing Justice? NanoEthics 2: 277–287. doi:10.1007/s11569-008-0048-5. 11. McVeigh, Jim, Michael Evans-Brown, and Mark A. Bellis. 2012. Human enhancement drugs and the pursuit of perfection. Adicciones 24: 185–190. 12. Harris, John. 2010. Enhancing Evolution: the Ethical Case for Making Better People. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 13. Bostrom, Nick, and Rebecca Roache. 2014. Smart Policy: Cognitive Enhancement and the Public Interest. In Enhancing Human Capacities, ed. Julian Savulescu, Ruud ter Meulen, and Guy Kahane, 138–149. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 14. Nordmann, Alfred. 2007. If and Then: A Critique of Speculative NanoEthics. NanoEthics 1: 31–46. doi:10.1007/s11569-007-0007-6. 15. Ferrari, Arianna, Christopher Coenen, and Armin Grunwald. 2012. Visions and Ethics in Current Discourse on Human Enhancement. NanoEthics 6: 215–229. doi:10.1007/s11569-012-0155-1. 16. Bostrom, Nick, and Toby Ord. 2006. The Reversal Test: Eliminating Status Quo Bias in Applied Ethics. Ethics 116: 656–679. doi:10.1086/505233. 36


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camps. Neither side is faultless when it comes to this impasse. We could rather coarsely say that amongst enhancement enthusiasts, there is sometimes a lack of recognition that these technologies will have to be socially accepted and democratically legitimated if they are to be brought to market or even available through public health systems like the NHS in the UK. Amongst critics, there is sometimes a lack of recognition that enhancement technologies are already widespread in use and, depending on how enhancement is defined, have been commonplace for centuries. 17 What if an alternative approach is used to debate human enhancement and explore its governance? Our small ambitious project tries to set out a new path in this important and very timely debate. While the debate on enhancement has been raging on, the European scene has witnessed the emergence of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) as a governance paradigm for science, technology and innovation. Central to RRI is the idea of aligning technology and scientific knowledge with societal goals.18 With roots in the ethics of technology, technology assessment and ELSI studies, i.e. the study of the ethical, legal and social implications of science and technology19, RRI nonetheless creates a detectable discontinuity in the exploration of technologies and their governance. Though focusing on the social desirability and ethical acceptability of innovation20, the specific approach of RRI does not focus exclusively on prediction and control aimed at preventing the negative consequences of innovation. It advocates instead a prospective idea of responsibility focused on its exercise, by way of steering innovation processes according to societal 17. Meacham, Darian E. 2015. The subject of enhancement: Augmented capacities, extended cognition and delicate ecologies of the mind. The New Bioethics, 21 (1):5-19. 18. Forsberg, Ellen-Marie, GianLuca Quaglio, Hannah O’Kane, Theodoros Karapiperis, Lieve van Woensel, and Simone Arnaldi. 2015. Assessment of science and technologies: Advising for and with responsibility. Technology in Society 42: 21–27. 19. Grunwald, Armin. 2014. Responsible Research and Innovation: An Emerging Issue in Research Policy Rooted in the Debate on Nanotechnology. In Responsibility in Nanotechnology Development, ed. Simone Arnaldi, Arianna Ferrari, Paolo Magaudda, and Francesca Marin, 13:191–205. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. 20. Von Schomberg, René. 2013. A vision of responsible innovation. In Responsible Innovation: Managing the Responsible Emergence of Science and Innovation in Society, ed. Richard Owen, Maggy Heintz, and John Bessant, 51–73. Chichester, UK: Wiley. 37


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values and needs. This way, responsibility becomes a driving factor of the innovation process rather than a constraint: the collective shaping of societally acceptable trajectories for research and innovation is achieved through participation and engagement, seeking to involve different actors with different roles and powers along the innovation process. These actors are considered mutually responsible.21 If one looks at RRI and human enhancement, it is surprising that these two bodies of literature have virtually no connections. Our project addresses this missing link and combines the literature on enhancement with the scholarship on responsible science and innovation to overcome the stalemate that characterizes the debate on human enhancement. The traditional arguments around the ethical admissibility and technical possibility of enhancement will remain relevant. However, according to the logic of RRI, our investigation will focus on whether and how human enhancement can contribute to the resolution of societal challenges. This shift requires considerable conceptual and methodological refinement. Conceptually, a fine grained understanding of responsibility is needed to support this shift. Beyond the ethics of care and responsiveness that are typical of RRI, we will explore alternative understandings of responsibility (e.g. liability and fault, safety and precaution). The point here is that different approaches to responsibility have different consequences for the configuration of governance solutions. Moreover, RRI’s emphasis on mutual responsibility and commitment brings the social dimension of human enhancement to the fore, i.e. how expectations, needs and practices are shaped by social structures and culture.22 Methodologically, the tools and techniques used to investigate these aspects have to evolve in order to meet RRI’s demand 21. Arnaldi, Simone, and Guido Gorgoni. 2016. Turning the tide or surfing the wave? Responsible Research and Innovation, fundamental rights and neoliberal virtues. Life Sciences, Society and Policy 12. doi:10.1186/s40504-016-0038-2. 22. Cabrera, Laura Y. 2015. Rethinking Human Enhancement. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK. 38


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that reflection and deliberation need to come through public participation and engagement. Much of the ethical and social debate on enhancement rests on expert judgement, and participation and engagement have frequently no place. In the project for which we have received funding, we selected technomoral scenarios as the technique to translate methodologically this collaboration between disciplines. By using fictive cases as stimuli for collective reflection and discussion, the method is designed to invite audiences to imagine and appraise ways in which technologies can change ideas, values and ideals, shifting the attention to their ‘soft’ impacts.23 Selecting different enhancement applications as case studies in cognitive, physical and mood enhancement, three fictive stories will be developed as thought experiments for exploring and clarifying the underlying implications of the different responsibility paradigms that can be adopted in governing human enhancement technologies. In pushing for a change in the relation between science and society, RRI enacts a realignment of social sciences and ethics in the public debates about techno-scientific governance. Drawing on and developing an established perspective of “engagement”, RRI provides the space for interdisciplinary collaboration between social sciences and humanities, in dialogue with natural sciences and engineering disciplines. Mobilizing conceptual, methodological, and empirical insights from the social sciences, we aim to clarify the values and implications embedded within enhancing interventions, thus contributing to the construction of “more intelligent and more humanly - as well as technically robust debate and practice in such matters”.24

23. Boenink, Marianne, Tsjalling Swierstra, and Dirk Stemerding. 2010. Anticipating the Interaction between Technology and Morality: A Scenario Study of Experimenting with Humans in Bionanotechnology. Studies in Ethics, Law, and Technology 4. doi:10.2202/1941-6008.1098. 24. Macnaghten, Phil, Kearnes, Matthew B. and Brian Wynne. 2005. Nanotechnology, Governance, and Public Deliberation: What Role for the Social Sciences? Science Communication 27: 268–291. doi:10.1177/1075547005281531. 39


This issue features: Simone Arnaldi Mats Brate Sheila Dow Arianna Ferrari Guido Gorgoni Christopher Gregory Darian Meacham Julie Nelson Toni Pustovrh

ISRF Bulletin Issue XI: The Ethical and/is the Social  

Partly inspired by the long-standing theme of transformation implicit in the work of Margaret Archer and colleagues at the Centre for Social...

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