The Morality of our Biosensor

Once we completed the application scenarios, Dr. Landeweerd instructed us to consider hypothetical situations of an ethical nature, which we may call ‘techno-moral scenarios’. These ethical scenarios are meant to formulate, and attempt to answer, morally loaded questions that may arise if our device were to be implemented in the real world. Furthermore, these technomoral scenarios differ from application scenarios in that they put aside practical concerns - for example, whether our biosensor provides innacurate results - to ask what implications it would have for society even in its perfect form.

To help think about some of these questions, we visited a lecturer of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, Dr. David Levy. As a teacher of Applied Ethics, Dr. Levy is used to considering contentious topics, such as abortion and euthanasia, in a systematic way. Not surprisingly, then, we asked Dr. Levy the challenging question that had been posed to us multiple times throughout our project: morally speaking, is our biosensor wrong because it condones drug use?

By applying ethical theory to the theoretical implementation of our biosensor, we were able to reach some interesting conclusions. For example, we reasoned that our biosensor would affect different demographics in different ways, having positive consequences for some, and negative consequences for others. We then argued that, in order to determine whether our biosensor is wrong in a moral sense, we needed a criteria for right and wrongness. We turned to the utility principle, which is often used in moral deliberation, for insight. According to this principle, an action is morally wrong if it causes more suffering than well-being. Thus, taking the implementation of our biosensor as the action, we were able to evaluate its moral status relative to the utility principle by weighing the overall positive consequences for society against the negative.

Both the technomoral and application scenarios helped shape our project by forcing us to build up and dismantle dilemmas of an ethical and practical nature. Going forward, we felt comfortable knowing that we did not charge ahead, blindly advocating a biosensor that could cause potential harm to society. Rather, we learned it is a device with limitations, even in its idealised form. With that being said, we also learned that most all of these dilemmas can be worked through with enough consideration, making us comfortable with the notion that the biosensor could do a lot of good if it were implemented in the real world. Below, click on the left button to check out our full philosophical discussion of the morality of our biosensor, or, click on the right button to read a play we wrote about a specific technomoral scenario.

Essay Play