insights these sources might offer in the context of any specific science or technology effort, two points are worth noting.

First, many of the sources described above are linked. For example, philosophical ethics—suitably elaborated—is in part a basis for disciplinary ethics and law. Differences between the precautionary principle and cost-benefit analysis mirror distinctions between deontology and consequentialism. The social sciences provide tools to examine the realities of behavior and thought when humans are confronted with the need to make ethical choices.

Second, consideration of a problem from multiple perspectives may from time to time lead to conflicting assessments of the ethics of alternative courses of action. Indeed, perfect consistency across these different perspectives is unlikely. If such consistency is indeed the case, then perhaps the celebration of a brief moment of ethical clarity is in order. But experience suggests that a finding of such consistency sometimes (often) results from either an unconscious attempt to reduce cognitive dissonance and/or a deliberate “stacking of the deck” toward favorable assumptions or data selection to build support for a particular position.

In the more likely case that the assessments from each perspective are not wholly congruent with each other, debate and discussion of the points of difference often help to enrich understanding in a way that premature convergence on one point of view cannot.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement