Role of Science and Technology

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Role of science and technology

My mandate, as I understood it, was to sketch the principal orientation of peoples in the capitalist democracies of North America and Europe to the human rights issues implicated in the constantly growing capacity of men and women to manipulate the natural world and to influence virtually every aspect of human life in ways hardly imagined just a few decades ago. TENSION BETWEEN THE SCIENCES AND THE HUMANITIES

The juxtaposition of "science and technology" with "human rights" in the overall project description implies, I believe, a felt tension between two ways of knowing the world, between two distinct yet constantly interactive realms of knowledge: the realms of science and the humanities. The quickstep of science and technology increases exponentially the means for conscious intervention in everyone else's personal and social life by the small minority of people possessed of the requisite knowledge, capital, authority, and/or coercive power. In response, morally sensitive members of the human community, including some who are themselves positioned to exploit new knowledge, search desperately for standards to channel evolving technologies toward serving rather than subverting broadly shared interests. Perhaps their search is driven by an even deeper concern. The leaps of scientific and technological knowledge threaten to do more than sharpen the pitch of extant hierarchies and increase the destructive potential of conflicts between liters. The new knowledge imperils our very sense of what it means to be human: our subjective feeling of responsibility; our belief in the capacity for moral action and personal improvement. Our sense of what it means to be human depends on our conviction, however unconscious, that there exists a zone of autonomous, self-conscious choice, constricted but never entirely occupied by chance and genes and chemistry, and defensible, albeit not always successfully, against the intrusion of state and private power. It depends also on an ingrained sense of what is "natural" or "authentic" and immanent in the human condition as opposed to what is accidental, transitory, and fabricated. The humanities are a collective record of our species' claims about itself, of its deepest beliefs, of its inner life, its consciousness of the freedom to create and to dream. They are a declaration of uniqueness, a dictionary of meaning, a thread of continuity. And they are, therefore, a statement of the values integral to the very idea of themselves human beings have evolved and nourished and must sustain to prevent an ineffable, indeed unimaginable, loss of coherence. THE IDEA OF HUMAN RIGHTS

The idea of human rights is, on the international plane of existence, the formal normative expression of those values. And like them it is a blend of two moral traditions that, in one guise or another, have competed and co-operated through the whole course of Western history. One tradition, encapsulated in the "principle of utility," declares that our pre-eminent moral test must be the relative capacity of proposed actions to maximize the welfare or happiness of the community.' This is not a collectivist approach. The community is not treated as an organism distinct from its individual members, a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Community welfare is simply the sum total of the felt welfare of each community member. Thus if many benefit greatly from a proposed act and a few are injured and no alternative course would maintain a comparable range and intensity of benefits while reducing the incidence of injury, the act is morally justified according to the principle of utility. Sometimes opposed in practice and always in theory is the moral tradition emphasizing the individual as the possessor of certain inalienable rights, rights which he or she may lose by unjustly diminishing the rights of others, which can be voluntarily waived, but which cannot be stripped by a majority however great...
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