Are Technologies Innocent? Part Three: The Passive Instrument Argument [Commentary]

Michael Arnold, Christopher Pearce

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

In Part One of this series it was suggested that in order to hold technologies to moral account a number of objections must be overcome: the argument that only humans are morally accountable, the passive instrument argument, the dumb instrument argument, the free will argument, and the dilution of responsibility argument. In Part Two, the human exclusivity argument was refuted, and here in Part Three the passive instrument objection is considered. This particular objection to the moral inclusion of technologies asserts that technologies do not act in the world, but are acted upon by humans, or are at most, intermediaries in actions undertaken by humans. The objection is not so much that technologies do not act at all, for this is their very purpose-scissors do cut, cars do move, computers do compute, a shirt does block the sun, a pet-rock does stop the paper from blowing away. In this sense it can be readily admitted by all sides of the argument that non-humans act-they cut, move, compute, block and so on. However, the passive instrument objection is not concerned with the literal fact that nonhumans act, but with the mix of human and non-human agency that is associated with the actions of a technology. Is the technology a passive instrument whose actions to cut, move, compute, or block are entirely attributable to human agency, or does the technology act in any significant way in an expression of its own agency?

Original languageEnglish
Article number7484888
Pages (from-to)86-87
Number of pages2
JournalIEEE Technology and Society Magazine
Volume35
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes

Cite this

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abstract = "In Part One of this series it was suggested that in order to hold technologies to moral account a number of objections must be overcome: the argument that only humans are morally accountable, the passive instrument argument, the dumb instrument argument, the free will argument, and the dilution of responsibility argument. In Part Two, the human exclusivity argument was refuted, and here in Part Three the passive instrument objection is considered. This particular objection to the moral inclusion of technologies asserts that technologies do not act in the world, but are acted upon by humans, or are at most, intermediaries in actions undertaken by humans. The objection is not so much that technologies do not act at all, for this is their very purpose-scissors do cut, cars do move, computers do compute, a shirt does block the sun, a pet-rock does stop the paper from blowing away. In this sense it can be readily admitted by all sides of the argument that non-humans act-they cut, move, compute, block and so on. However, the passive instrument objection is not concerned with the literal fact that nonhumans act, but with the mix of human and non-human agency that is associated with the actions of a technology. Is the technology a passive instrument whose actions to cut, move, compute, or block are entirely attributable to human agency, or does the technology act in any significant way in an expression of its own agency?",
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Are Technologies Innocent? Part Three: The Passive Instrument Argument [Commentary]. / Arnold, Michael; Pearce, Christopher.

In: IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Vol. 35, No. 2, 7484888, 01.06.2016, p. 86-87.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

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