Pistols, pills, pork and ploughs: the structure of technomoral revolutions

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy:1-33 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

The power of technology to transform religions, science, and political institutions has often been presented as nothing short of revolutionary. Does technology have a similarly transformative influence on societies’ morality? Scholars have not rigorously investigated the role of technology in moral revolutions, even though existing research on technomoral change suggests that this role may be considerable. In this paper, we explore what the role of technology in moral revolutions, understood as processes of radical group-level moral change, amounts to. We do so by investigating four historical episodes of radical moral change in which technology plays a noteworthy role. Our case-studies illustrate the plurality of mechanisms involved in technomoral revolutions, but also suggest general patterns of technomoral change, such as technology’s capacity to stabilize and destabilize moral systems, and to make morally salient phenomena visible or invisible. We find several leads to expand and refine conceptual tools for analysing moral change, specifically by crystallizing the notions of ‘technomoral niche construction’ and ‘moral payoff mechanisms’. Coming to terms with the role of technology in radical moral change, we argue, enriches our understanding of moral revolutions, and alerts us to the depths of which technology can change our societies in wanted and unwanted ways.

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Author Profiles

Julia Simone Hermann
Utrecht University
Michael Klenk
Delft University of Technology
Elizabeth O'Neill
Eindhoven University of Technology
5 more