Technological Futures and Non-Reciprocal Responsibility

Dr. Chris Groves,
Prof. Barbara Adam
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Alongside the development of science and technology in industrialised societies, there has developed a mismatch between their collective capacity to act in ways that produce long-term consequences for future generations and our environment, and their ability to develop evaluative perspectives that can comprehend the ethical significance of this technological power. It is argued that the ongoing resurgence of interest in nuclear energy as a solution to the problem of climate change represents the latest example of this mismatch.

I propose that one key obstacle to the development of a more comprehensive ethical perspective is presented by what happens to the social meaning of responsibility when it is mediated by legal and political institutions. The idea that being a moral agent means I am responsible for my own actions is a key element of adult identity in Western societies, but this broad meaning of responsibility has further social dimensions, only some of which are reflected in the institutional articulation of social responsibility for futures.

One of these further dimensions that are omitted from the institutional context is the concept of non-reciprocal responsibility, of the kind which characterises the relationship between parents and children. I draw on thinkers such as Hans Jonas and John O’Neill to argue that, in order to articulate our ethical relationship to future generations, we must work with such a conception of responsibility rather than, as is most common in debates over inter-generational equity, presupposing a foundational concept of reciprocal rights.

Keywords: Philosophy, Ethics, Responsibility, Technology, Futures, Nuclear Energy, Genetic Engineering, Environmental Ethics, Ecology, Care Ethics, Precautionary Principle
Stream: Philosophy, Ethics, Consciousness, Political Science, Politics, Globalisation
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Technological Futures and Non-Reciprocal Responsibility

Dr. Chris Groves

Research Associate, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University
Cardiff, Glamorgan, UK

Longer Bio PhD from Warwick University (UK) in philosophy, which examined the consequences that the introduction of time as an explicit philosophical theme had for Enlightenment thought. Interested in the relationship between continental philosophy and social theory/sociology, and particularly in the implications for political thought and environmental ethics of the philosophical and sociological understanding of time, with special emphasis on concepts of the future. I am currently working on a project (In Pursuit of the Future) at Cardiff University with Professor Barbara Adam developing new conceptual approaches to a social theory of the future, focused on the theme of time and responsibility (more information at

Prof. Barbara Adam

Professor of Sociology, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University
Cardiff, Glamorgan, UK

Ref: H06P0373