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Technology and the Virtues: A Philosophical Guide to a Future Worth Wanting

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The 21st century offers a dizzying array of new technological developments: robots smart enough to take white collar jobs, social media tools that manage our most important relationships, ordinary objects that track, record, analyze and share every detail of our daily lives, and biomedical techniques with the potential to transform and enhance human minds and bodies to an The 21st century offers a dizzying array of new technological developments: robots smart enough to take white collar jobs, social media tools that manage our most important relationships, ordinary objects that track, record, analyze and share every detail of our daily lives, and biomedical techniques with the potential to transform and enhance human minds and bodies to an unprecedented degree. Emerging technologies are reshaping our habits, practices, institutions, cultures and environments in increasingly rapid, complex and unpredictable ways that create profound risks and opportunities for human flourishing on a global scale. How can our future be protected in such challenging and uncertain conditions? How can we possibly improve the chances that the human family will not only live, but live well, into the 21st century and beyond? This book locates a key to that future in the distant past: specifically, in the philosophical traditions of virtue ethics developed by classical thinkers from Aristotle and Confucius to the Buddha. Each developed a way of seeking the good life that equips human beings with the moral and intellectual character to flourish even in the most unpredictable, complex and unstable situations--precisely where we find ourselves today. Through an examination of the many risks and opportunities presented by rapidly changing technosocial conditions, Vallor makes the case that if we are to have any real hope of securing a future worth wanting, then we will need more than just better technologies. We will also need better humans. Technology and the Virtues develops a practical framework for seeking that goal by means of the deliberate cultivation of technomoral virtues: specific skills and strengths of character, adapted to the unique challenges of 21st century life, that offer the human family our best chance of learning to live wisely and well with emerging technologies.


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The 21st century offers a dizzying array of new technological developments: robots smart enough to take white collar jobs, social media tools that manage our most important relationships, ordinary objects that track, record, analyze and share every detail of our daily lives, and biomedical techniques with the potential to transform and enhance human minds and bodies to an The 21st century offers a dizzying array of new technological developments: robots smart enough to take white collar jobs, social media tools that manage our most important relationships, ordinary objects that track, record, analyze and share every detail of our daily lives, and biomedical techniques with the potential to transform and enhance human minds and bodies to an unprecedented degree. Emerging technologies are reshaping our habits, practices, institutions, cultures and environments in increasingly rapid, complex and unpredictable ways that create profound risks and opportunities for human flourishing on a global scale. How can our future be protected in such challenging and uncertain conditions? How can we possibly improve the chances that the human family will not only live, but live well, into the 21st century and beyond? This book locates a key to that future in the distant past: specifically, in the philosophical traditions of virtue ethics developed by classical thinkers from Aristotle and Confucius to the Buddha. Each developed a way of seeking the good life that equips human beings with the moral and intellectual character to flourish even in the most unpredictable, complex and unstable situations--precisely where we find ourselves today. Through an examination of the many risks and opportunities presented by rapidly changing technosocial conditions, Vallor makes the case that if we are to have any real hope of securing a future worth wanting, then we will need more than just better technologies. We will also need better humans. Technology and the Virtues develops a practical framework for seeking that goal by means of the deliberate cultivation of technomoral virtues: specific skills and strengths of character, adapted to the unique challenges of 21st century life, that offer the human family our best chance of learning to live wisely and well with emerging technologies.

30 review for Technology and the Virtues: A Philosophical Guide to a Future Worth Wanting

  1. 5 out of 5

    Allan Savage

    A FEW CRITICAL COMMENTS While ethics has always been embedded in technological contexts, humans have, until very recently, been the primary authors of their moral choices, and the consequences of those choices were usually restricted to impacts on individual or local group welfare. Today, however, our aggregated moral choices in technological contexts routinely impact the well-being of people on the other side of the planet, a staggering number of other species and whole generations not yet born A FEW CRITICAL COMMENTS While ethics has always been embedded in technological contexts, humans have, until very recently, been the primary authors of their moral choices, and the consequences of those choices were usually restricted to impacts on individual or local group welfare. Today, however, our aggregated moral choices in technological contexts routinely impact the well-being of people on the other side of the planet, a staggering number of other species and whole generations not yet born. (p. 2). Comment: I fail to understand how in their “aggregated moral choices” humans do not remain primary authors of their moral choices, as the author seems to imply. Such complexities [of the contemporary human situation] remind us that predicting the general shape of tomorrow’s innovations is not in fact, our biggest challenge: far harder, and more significant, is the job of figuring out what we will do with these technologies once we have them, and what they will do with us. This cannot be done without attending to a host of interrelated political, cultural, economic, environmental, and historical factors that co-direct human innovation and practice [Vallor’s emphasis] (p. 5). Comment: The human being is the only consciously deliberate actor in moral ethical situations. I see no reason to posit any conscious deliberate initiative on the part of the human being’s environment, unless it is another human being, of course. I distinguish between movement and action. While parts of the human being’s environment may move, they do not consciously act. To see what relational understanding is and why it is essential to the practice of moral self-cultivation, it helps to recognize how classical virtue traditions conceive of the human person: namely, as a relational being, someone whose identity is formed through a network of relationships. While some virtue traditions regard one’s relationships with other living things, objects, places, or deities as part of one’s unique identity, all virtue traditions acknowledge the central importance of our formative relationships with other human beings: our family, friends, neighbors, citizens, teachers, leaders, and models [Vallor’s emphasis] (p.76). Comment: It is a bit of a stretch, I think, in classical virtue ethics to recognize a person’s identity as formed by relationships. Her suggestion of relational formation, in fact, belongs to a distinct contemporary philosophy of consciousness that requires the rejection of the Hellenic concepts of essence and existence, characteristic of classical philosophy in forming personal identity. In discussing “competing visions of human (or posthuman) flourishing” on page 231 she opts not to expand on the clarification and significant difference between “transhumanism” and “a coming posthuman era” for reasons of space, as she admits in an endnote (p. 277). For reasons of space, this passes over two key distinctions: the first is between the strong transhumanist program for enhancement and more modest enhancement goals that stop short of radical alteration of the human species. The second is the distinction between “transhuman” and “posthuman” philosophies; some transhumanists explicitly call for a posthuman future, that is, one in which humanity has been surpassed. Others … reject the notion of leaving our humanity behind, while simultaneously regarding the nature of our humanity as almost infinitely malleable. Finally, there are uses of “posthuman” in literary theory, gender, and culture studies … that do not map neatly onto the transhumanist conception of posthumanity. Both distinctions are important but fluid and contested. Comment: To my mind, the very reasons she cites to pass over this distinction ought to merit a deeper and more serious study. A return to classical principles, no matter how successfully “tweaked” cannot do justice to this contemporary philosophical question. Our human experience already indicates that the products of digital technology are not impossible fictions in many cases, and we experience the boundaries of such products, not as “fixed” (as is Hellenistic philosophy) but fluid (as in phenomenological philosophy). Since human experience has not ceased to evolve, since the human being has not ceased to evolve, it follows that to be human is not a static state, but a fluid one subject to further evolutionary development — under the direction of a conscious human agent — unlike the previous process of pre-conscious biological evolution. That is to say, “pre-conscious humanity” has been surpassed by a “conscious humanity,” which, potentially, may be surpassed again in the future. That there are “uses of ‘posthuman’ in literary theory. gender, and culture studies” that do not integrate well with our present understanding is no reason to opt for an up-dating of the classics, and ignore an alternate philosophical approach that is likely to be more fitting to contemporary human experience. To my mind, this rejection is a major weakness of Vallor’s approach to the whole challenge of technology and virtues, which cannot be resolved by a sophisticated return to traditional thinking. The brief review below, which I posted on Amazon ( 27 May, 2019) was generated in light of these and similar criticisms I have regarding her perspectives which are peppered throughout her book. “On the whole I am sympathetic to Dr. Ezzat F. Guirguis’s review and am in general agreement with it. The journalistic style and generous use of the subjunctive mood (often characteristic of contemporary academic writing) frustrates more than assists the critical reader in arriving at a resolution of competing ideas. I am tempted to restate the subtitle after the fashion of a thesis prefatory page: A Philosophical Guide “in Partial Fulfillment” to a Future Worth Wanting, since this more accurately reflects the book’s achievement and the author’s conclusion on her own research. She writes: This book recommends a classical solution: an energetic (perhaps even desperate) collective effort to reinvest our cultures in the habits of moral self-cultivation and education for technological wisdom [her emphasis] (p. 145). To my mind, there is more to be said, and what is discussed here the reader must not assume to exhaust the topic. That is to say a critical reader will consciously place the book in context and thus possibly gain some worthwhile insights. To my mind, to understand her perspective (and her apparent conviction of thought) on the material she presents requires a generous stretch of one’s imagination. The book is more likely to impress and convince the less critical academic. The comment on the jacket of the book from the Notre Dame Philosophical Review is an excellent clue to identifying the intended readership of this book. For the anxiously inquiring mind, it “captures the special blend of excitement and precariousness that is woven into our lives today by our use and reliance on constantly changing technology.” As a guide to critical philosophical thought, however — caveat emptor.” A note for the theologically erudite: It might be advantageous to view Vallor’s perspective at updating classical philosophy to meet the experience of the contemporary age as similar to that of the ecclesiastical authorities’ attempt at updating theology to meet the experience of the modern world. They opted for an aggiornamento, rather than for a ressourcement of philosophical thought, the latter being the more resourceful.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Saffron

    Giving this 5 stars because EVERYONE should read the chapter on Knowing What to Wish For, and because this book does a great job with its crazy ambitious scope

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jacqui

    Shannon Vallor argues we need a "new culture of technomoral virtue, in which human individuals, families, communities, and institutions consciously work to inculcate the specific moral skills and capabilities that intelligent life needs in order to responsibly direct and wisely manage the use of technoscientific power" (p.252). In other words, we need tools of moral self- (and societal) cultivation that allow us to build lives of flourishing amidst the increasingly complex and opaque futures tha Shannon Vallor argues we need a "new culture of technomoral virtue, in which human individuals, families, communities, and institutions consciously work to inculcate the specific moral skills and capabilities that intelligent life needs in order to responsibly direct and wisely manage the use of technoscientific power" (p.252). In other words, we need tools of moral self- (and societal) cultivation that allow us to build lives of flourishing amidst the increasingly complex and opaque futures that our techno-world comprises. Drawing on global traditions of virtue ethics, Vallor focuses on those developed from/around Aristotle, Kongzi (non-Latinized form of Confucius), and Buddhism. All three garner significant space within each chapter. The final four chapters examine specific techomoral challenges surrounding: new social media, surveillance technologies, robots in war and (caring) at home, and human enhancement technologies. I liked the comparative lens, and think Vallor argues well for her conclusions. Specifically, however, I'm not convinced of the role that moral exemplars need (?) to play in a new tradition of technomoral virtue ethics, and that would be an area deserving future thought. For anyone who wants to think more about the interactions between technology, ethics, and human attempts to aim for a "future worth wanting" this book will surely provide much inspiration. P.S. One small habit in the text is to use the word "blind" to mean ignorant or lacking awareness (this might happen in every chapter, though I didn't keep track - and is something widespread, not just in this book of course). This is ableist usage that Vallor (and others) would do better to avoid in the future.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David Gross

    Shannon Vallor argues that we desperately need to dedicate ourselves to cultivating and propagating a set of human virtues appropriate to our rapidly-changing technological era, so that we can preserve the hope of a future worth living. Vallor believes that “virtue ethics” offers the best framework to work from, as other frameworks (Kantian/deontological or utilitarian/consequentialist) do not function well in situations of rapid change and what she calls “acute technosocial opacity”. Vallor revie Shannon Vallor argues that we desperately need to dedicate ourselves to cultivating and propagating a set of human virtues appropriate to our rapidly-changing technological era, so that we can preserve the hope of a future worth living. Vallor believes that “virtue ethics” offers the best framework to work from, as other frameworks (Kantian/deontological or utilitarian/consequentialist) do not function well in situations of rapid change and what she calls “acute technosocial opacity”. Vallor reviews the history and current revival of virtue ethics, concentrating in particular on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Confucian ethics, and Buddhist ethics. She examines the methods those traditions advise us to use for moral self-cultivation. And she describes a system of moral foundations and a set of particular virtues that she thinks will serve us well in our technological age. She then uses her proposed framework to suggest approaches to some pressing “technomoral” issues: social media, panoptic surveillance, military robotics, care robotics, and human enhancement technology.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Todd Davies

    A fantastic, important and profound book that I highly recommend every technologist to read. The book starts by laying the foundations of individual moral development in a historical context (talking about Greek, Chinese and Buddhist culture), before describing virtues required to properly navigate the moral problems that society faces from technologies today, and finally going through some worked examples. It ends by laying out multiple ways that technology could develop, and the importance of A fantastic, important and profound book that I highly recommend every technologist to read. The book starts by laying the foundations of individual moral development in a historical context (talking about Greek, Chinese and Buddhist culture), before describing virtues required to properly navigate the moral problems that society faces from technologies today, and finally going through some worked examples. It ends by laying out multiple ways that technology could develop, and the importance of the societal integration of practical technomoral wisdom to avoid the worse outcomes. I was surprised to find that the content of the book, especially the first two sections, was directly applicable to my own life. I feel as though the book has made me a more morally mature person, which I am very grateful for.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Velislava

    I had the privilege to attend a talk by the author last month, where she touched on topics discussed in this book, with a continuation of how to be involved, human technology vs. humane technology, and the need of a global awareness on continuing or technological advancements morally. Each chapter of this book could easily be expanded into its own book with a variety of further examples and resources to be debated and reasoned. It is one of the few books which has spurred me to make active change I had the privilege to attend a talk by the author last month, where she touched on topics discussed in this book, with a continuation of how to be involved, human technology vs. humane technology, and the need of a global awareness on continuing or technological advancements morally. Each chapter of this book could easily be expanded into its own book with a variety of further examples and resources to be debated and reasoned. It is one of the few books which has spurred me to make active changes in my thinking and lifestyle, and to comprehend the basic truth that survival is not enough, living well is what we should be aiming for instead. I strongly recommend not only reading this book but taking the time to consider and further information on the topics provided.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Kasenberg

    I was thoroughly impressed by this book. It accomplished the rare goal of being both relevant to my research in AI ethics, and inspirational to me as a person. As I've stepped back from a religious background, I've been interested in trying to find new techniques for the struggle to become a better person. This book was an unexpected place for me to find that, as well as an interesting exploration of what a morality in the age of information technology, AI and radical human enhancement might loo I was thoroughly impressed by this book. It accomplished the rare goal of being both relevant to my research in AI ethics, and inspirational to me as a person. As I've stepped back from a religious background, I've been interested in trying to find new techniques for the struggle to become a better person. This book was an unexpected place for me to find that, as well as an interesting exploration of what a morality in the age of information technology, AI and radical human enhancement might look like. For me personally, some of the extensive comparison of Aristotelian, Confucian, and Buddhist virtue ethics lagged a bit, but aside from that I have no real objections.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cornederuijt

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Writing this review from my own background as a data scientist, I found the book interesting but at times difficult read. The first part of the book discusses in quite depth the overlap in virtues between different classical philosophies, which was difficult to follow if your knowledge on the subject is as shallow as mine. The second part, in which the technomoral virtues are explained and in which examples are given on how these apply to different technological innovations, is on the other hand Writing this review from my own background as a data scientist, I found the book interesting but at times difficult read. The first part of the book discusses in quite depth the overlap in virtues between different classical philosophies, which was difficult to follow if your knowledge on the subject is as shallow as mine. The second part, in which the technomoral virtues are explained and in which examples are given on how these apply to different technological innovations, is on the other hand food for thought and provides interesting perspectives towards these innovations.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chad

  10. 5 out of 5

    Wells Lucas Santo

  11. 4 out of 5

    Barak

  12. 5 out of 5

    Minha Lee

  13. 4 out of 5

    Heidi Galpern

  14. 5 out of 5

    Adrian Hon

  15. 4 out of 5

    Keirston

  16. 5 out of 5

    Paul Fournier

  17. 5 out of 5

    Fergle

  18. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kit Collins

  20. 5 out of 5

    Paul Ruijgrok

  21. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Ragan

  22. 4 out of 5

    Keirston

  23. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  24. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Powell

  25. 4 out of 5

    Steven Miller

  26. 4 out of 5

    Professor Phyllis R. Brown

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Lee

    The moral consideration of technology requires virtue. Deontological approaches lack needed resources. So, how can virtue be recovered? Vallor looks to several virtue traditions. But, I am not sure that she has shown that a virtue ethics can be grounded in pluralism.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Catalina Butnaru

  29. 5 out of 5

    Claus RANTZAU

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ethan

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