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Egbert Schuurman
The Ethics of Responsibility as a Comprehensive Approach: An Application to the Ethics of Technology


Technical thinking predominates in industrial society. It also predominates ethics. Virtually everything is viewed in terms of the technical model or—more broadly—the reductionistic machine model. Neither of these models has any room for life as a fundamental and decisive factor. They have guided the application of the power of technology in a tyrannical way. Huge problems have been the result. Today we can see how the “technological culture” threatens life itself, to the point of destroying it. A solution to these problems of modern culture is impossible so long as we continue to think and act within the parameters of the technical-scientific, reductionistic model. In the new phase of culture and civilization, however, we shall not say farewell to technology as such but we shall have to put it in the service of life and human society. Reality must no longer be viewed as providing mere objects for technical manipulation but must instead be received in love as a prior given, as a divine creation, as a gift from God. Such an attitude will require respect and awe for the Owner of all things; it will call for openness, humility, meekness, wonder, reverence and care. Our appreciation of technology will change completely if the will to power and mastery will be exchanged for respect for all that lives, in all its multi-coloured variety and multiplicity. It will also alter our attitude toward our fellow-man and foster love of the worldwide community of man. The aim of technology should become, not to break down and to reduce reality, in order to master and control, but to unfold and cause to flourish. For a healthy disclosure of the creation, we should nurture the perspective of the living and vibrant garden-city, of a culture that takes care of nature and the environment.

A culture whose basic categories are life and love and whose mission is to promote and strengthen the cause of justice and righteousness in the world will orient itself to supra-subjective normative limits. This will make possible a more balanced, sustainable, peace­able and also richly varied development. When people learn to practice moderation, tensions and threats will subside and reductions will be overcome. In light of the perspective here sketched, world problems and global menaces can be pushed back and a more durable or sustainable and just global development can be realized as we move toward the second decade of the twenty-first century.

In closing, an ethics of responsibility involves a large agenda. It calls for its own distinct development, and a spiritual and philosophical struggle with the dominant traditions of ethics in our culture. Ethics and morality are central themes of our twenty-first century. One step more in this new century requires three steps in the ethics of responsibility.

Egbert Schuurman (born 1937) studied civil engineering at the Technical University of Delft and philosophy at the Free University in Amsterdam. He obtained his doctorate in 1972 with a dissertation that was translated into English in 1980 under the title Technology and the Future: A Philosophical Challenge (Wedge Publishing Foundation, Toronto, Ontario). In 1972, he was appointed professor in Reformational Philosophy at the Technical University of Eindhoven. Since 1974 and 1984, respectively, he also fulfills that role at the Technical University of Delft and at the University of Agriculture at Wageningen. From 1981 to 1983, he was a member of the so-called Broad DNA Committee, which, under government auspices, studied the societal and ethical aspects of activities involving genetic materials. From 1983 to 1984, he was in the United States as part of an international research team on Responsible Technology (the title of the resulting study, which was edited by Stephen V. Monsma). Since 1983, Dr. Schuurman has been a member of the Upper Chamber of the States General for the Christian Union. From 1987 to 1997, he was president of the Prof. Dr. G. A. Lindeboom Institute for Medical Ethics. Since 1995, he has been president of the Institute for Cultural Ethics. In 1994, the University of Potchefstroom in South Africa awarded him an honorary doctorate. In 1995 in Berkeley, California, he was granted a Templeton Award for his work as an educator in religion, science, and technology. Dr. Schuurman is the author of several books, including Perspectives on Technology and Culture, Technology in Christian-Philosophical Perspective, Reflections on the Technological Society, and Faith and Hope in Technology. Several of his books have been translated into Chinese, English, Korean, and Japanese.


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