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The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Should ethics be overlooked in the field of technological advancements if the benefits outweigh the costs?

Asked by The_Compassionate_Heretic (14596points) June 3rd, 2009

Technological advances that could potentially benefit generations of people that come at the expense of a few in the present.

Sacrificing the rights of a few so the majority can benefit, as it were.

I say nay, if anyone wants my view

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29 Answers

ru2bz46's avatar

Why is it unethical to cause harm to a few so that many more may be kept free from harm? I would think that if the few did not make the sacrifice, then many others would suffer, instead.

You may need to clarify your question a bit to avoid it being misinterpreted. The question is obviously biased toward a “no” answer, so I assume you mean that a few should not be made to suffer so that many others may gain more than they already have. In that case, I would agree with you that the few should not suffer for the benefit of the many.

Just what are you asking?

Randy's avatar

Although it was more religious than technological, many ancient civilizations would disagree with you.

I know it may be a bit of a stretch to compare their reasoning to those that you mention, but hear me out. Ancient civilizations would offer human sacrifices for many reasons but most were to keep a god of some sort happy so that they would continue to help the civilization in some way. I think that’s similar to what you mean because they thought what they were doing was helpful, just as we would do. The studies could turn out a failure at the cost of human life. It wouldn’t have to be as extreme as human life in our case, but I think I’ve made my comparison clear.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@ru2bz46 What I’m asking is that is there a technological advance that would be so great as to justify unethical behavior in it’s development?

As a crude example, if scientists found that eating babies could enable unassisted human flight, would it be worth it?

ragingloli's avatar

I don’t think there is a need to violate people’s rights. There will be sufficient volunteers.

ru2bz46's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic I cannot think of a positive reason for unethical behavior.

If the technological advancement will prevent the inevitable suffering of many for generations to come, then a few may be harmed without violating ethics since not using the technology would, in effect, be causing harm to many.

YARNLADY's avatar

In the area of using animals for experiments, I think ethics should be followed as much as possible, but in the long run, death of the animal is the usual end result.

Bluefreedom's avatar

When it comes to cloning and other genetic experimentation, going that far is starting to mess with God’s work and that can be very controversial and troublesome and unethical to many people. Should ethics be overlooked in this regard? No way.

neo2049's avatar

@ru2bz46 I think it is easy to say that if the benefits were great then it is OK. The people that suffer will not give a monkeys about the future if they are made to suffer. Instead they will become angry that society has failed them. Are they not part of society? When scientists are faced with a problem then that is when they are in their element. People saying “Oh sorry we can’t think of a better way. Some are going to have to suffer” is just an excuse for not doing anymore work.

basp's avatar

I see no reason to compromise ethics.

On a related note…..isn’t that how wars are justified? That some will fight and possibly pay the ultimate price so that the others can live free?

wundayatta's avatar

Most of us would say murder is unethical (I hope), and yet, most of us think murder is just fine if in defense of a country. This is a case where we encourage young folks to risk death for a greater good.

Why should technological advances at the expense of a few but that benefits many, be any different? I trust that all who believe it is unethical also believe that using military services to protect a population is also unethical. If not, I’d like to hear an explanation for the difference.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Utilitarianism forgets the individual. If your family contained a certain characteristic that would save thousands, but it could only be harvested through your slaughter, would you consent? I think not. Whenever ethics are relaxed, no matter how slight, we enter dangerous territory as each new “technology” demands a little more, and a little more than that.

Harp's avatar

The problem is that we’re not very good at assessing the global repercussions of our actions. While the practical benefits of a given course may be tantalizingly apparent, it’s far harder to foresee the moral costs. What would be the long-term effects of relaxing our moral sensibilities in a given domain? Which of our moral compunctions are frivolous and which are actually vital to civilization, or even to our humanity? We may find that we can drop former taboos and the world keeps on going, but the price may be that we become less human. How do you account for this in a cost/benefit analysis?

“Humanity” is an ideal, not a measurable commodity. Does that mean that it has no value? This should, I believe, always be a question that we struggle mightily with. If it ever becomes facile, we’re in trouble.

neo2049's avatar

@daloon Defending a country from attack is completely different. A person has no choice but to pick up a weapon and fight. If someone is trying to kill you you have to do something. We do however have a choice whether to allow someone to suffer just so someone else can have a better life. That person suffering has done nothing wrong. Also how are we to choose who will suffer? Should we choose the poor or maybe illegal immigrants? Maybe we can use prisoners? It is fundamentally wrong for a civilized society to make people suffer just on the off-chance that some may benefit.

I think @FireMadeFlesh is completely right. Once you start you cannot stop because someone in power will be able to use the same excuse until it becomes too late.

tinyfaery's avatar

No. I’m a firm believer that the ends do not justify the means. What happens to a culture when we value progress over the well-being of every living thing? We aren’t just talking about one field. Our actions create ideas, and those ideas disseminate through our psyches, and the world.

I don’t believe in sacrificing the present to an unknown future. What we might become in the process is quite a hideous thought. Shit. It’s not even a question of what we might become. It’s a question of what we are becoming.

mammal's avatar

i thought e=Mc2 = Progress….....was an irrefutable law

ragingloli's avatar

it is e=mc²

mammal's avatar

@ragingloli clever clogs ;)

wundayatta's avatar

@neo2049 I can’t agree that people have no choice about entering the military. In the US, we have an all volunteer army. Volunteer. Also, in the US, most recent wars have not been fought here. We have been the invaders. In other words, “defense” doesn’t really mean defense. The nation recruits young people, offering them various rewards, and knowing that some of them will be cannon fodder. We justify their deaths by saying it is for the good of the country.

I agree that it is wrong to make people suffer on the off chance it will benefit many more people. I just think that is a hypocritical approach to the issue. Like someone is anti-choice because each little fetus is a human being, but pro death penalty.

ru2bz46's avatar

@neo2049 I’m not saying that we should make some suffer just to make more happier. I’m saying that if a great number of people are suffering badly, and the suffering of a few can prevent that, don’t we have an obligation to shift the suffering from many to few, assuming that all are innocent victims.

For example, a submarine is damaged and cannot be raised without external help, and 100 people are in peril. 10 of them in an isolated part of the sub have enough oxygen to wait for help, but the other 90 will surely perish before help arrives. By closing a hatch and separating the section with the ten people from the rest of the sub, the other 90 are able to raise to the surface.

Is it wrong to knowingly doom the 10 to save the 90, or is the greater good to save the most people possible in the situation?

neo2049's avatar

@ru2bz46 Well I can’t argue with that. I guess in the end every situation is different and should be dealt on a case by case basis.

tinyfaery's avatar

@ru2bz46 Yes, it is wrong. We have no right to decide life and death. And those who feel like they can, or have the right to, are to be avoided. How about when it is your life at stake? Who will you let decide if you die or not?

ru2bz46's avatar

@tinyfaery For the right reasons, such as if I were one of the 10, I hope that I would have the courage to make the same choice.

tinyfaery's avatar

@ru Deciding for yourself is one thing, someone deciding for you is something completely different.

ru2bz46's avatar

@tinyfaery If you came across a situation whereby doing nothing would allow 10 people to live, but cause 90 people to die, and you had the choice to pull a lever and cause the same 10 people to die, but the 90 people would live, would you simply do nothing?

tinyfaery's avatar

If I had a vested interest, yes I’d pull the lever, and it would be from pure selfishness. Otherwise no, I would not pull the lever. What will be will be.

YARNLADY's avatar

There is a big debate going on about life photographers now. What is ethical, anyway? Do they simply sit back and photograph the baby cougar fall into a pool and die? It that ethical? There are many instances in ‘life’ where the ethics is not crystal clear.

lillycoyote's avatar

Ethics should never be overlooked.

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