Monday, January 29, 2007

Successful 2007 Conference by the Faculty

Dr. Olga Kopp speaking on Bio-Ethics

This year's faculty conference was a success and came off nicely. We had sessions over two days rather than one and got to hear twice as many great papers from UVSC faculty. We're beginning to collect a sub-set of those papers to publish in the Proceedings. Recently we announced a new process of paying students for blog entries that describe their response to an Ethics Center event, and we're looking forward to the next several entries coming from students who did just that. Also, several faculty may be joining the blogging here, so look for their posts.

In the meantime, photos for the conference are available at:

These photos are a set within the larger ethics photo collection.

Print ready images are available by clicking on a photo, choosing "all sizes" and downloading the largest size.

1 comment:

WBH said...

I was particularly pleased with the interest in thinking about the long-term impact of technology on the nature of human being in culture. Although there are several ways to ask questions regarding technology, the most typical kind usually asks about capability, i.e., CAN we do this or that. At the risk of oversimplification, but in the interest of engaging a dialogue, I will suggest what could happen if we only ask about capability. I fully appreciate that most of us would not think of asking only this type of question, but, unfortunately, it is this form of the question that has the most influence on technical, economic, and political decisions about the development, deployment, and assessment of 21st century technology. If we only ask this type of question, we can expect several consequences.

First, most of us will be unable to fully participate because we will not have the techical knowledge to make a contribution at the level of technical capability. Of course, no one expects that all of us will be technical specialists in every technical speciality, and that is not what I am suggesting. Rather, we don't even have enough knowledge to understand what is going on. Our current students will graduate from most colleges in this country with little or no understanding of how technology will force cultural and moral issues upon them for which they are ill-prepared.

Second, with less participation from non-technical specialists, the issues will tend to be framed in technical terms only; social and especially ethics inquiry will be led by those who are best at framing issues in technical terms, but not particularly well prepared to frame them in terms of, say, governance, culture, spirituality, or ethics. Weber knew that it would be the tendency of bureaucratic structures to transform moral issues into administrative ones, and history has only confirmed this tendency.

Third, the more such decisions are made this way, the more we begin to blur the line between governance and technical ability. Do you every wonder why the local MD is often asked to be the part-time Mayor of a small community? Is there some connection between anatomy and governance? Remember "body count" as a measure of policy success? When this kind of confusion between governance and the technology that may support it becomes invisible, we have a TECHNOCRACY.

Fourth, the more this happens, the more disconnected we will become from participation in technology issues at all, even when they are central to policies of governance or principles of human dignity and integrity. When this happens, we will begin to feel that technology has a life and momentum of its own. This Technological Determinism feeds the feeling of impotence many have about their ability to direct their own future.

Fifth, having redefined the heart of and conditions for governance, and having become disconnected from the value of things "non-technical", we may begin to see ourselves and others as we would see any other machine; and we may assess their value and worth in the same way, viz., by what they can produce for us. We will have evolved into what worried Kant most, viz., beings who see themselves and each other instrumentally. Human character will not stand for what we are, or what we do, or even how we do it; rather, it will stand for we CAN DO FOR......(you pick the word). We will Be what we can Produce!

None of this should be taken to imply an argument against the development of new technology, or to suggest a "back to nature" future for the human species. We may indeed get "back to nature", possibly even back to the stone age, but it will probably not be the result of rational political analysis.

We must engage this issue in a manner befitting what the academy represents. None of us, no one discipline, has the "corner on the market of truth". Substituting one disciplinary competence for another in issues of human destiny and governance does nothing of lasting value. Who among us would like our next surgery performed by a literature professor? Who wants your next home built by your ethics professor? We must avoid this approach if we are to teach the next generation how to respect each other's talents. In fact, I suggest that the beginning of the 21st century is a good moment in history for a fundamental re-examination of what makes a "discipline". Maybe we need new disciplines; or maybe we should try teaching and learning more easily across them. We are used to calling ourselves a "teaching" institution. Perhaps we should see ourselves as a "learning" institution. This might make it easier to permeate our disciplinary boundaries. Do you wonder why colleges want to be like a "business" while businesses are calling their facilities "campuses"? Are we really ready to buy what we are selling?

I am advocating for a more transparent examination of the less transparent impact of living with technology in terms of capability only. I would like us to become more appreciative of how the very visible and necessary technology of our generation can lead to quite invisible consequences that may not be appreciated for several generations to come. We must be about Learning, not just Teaching. If we can do this, I think it will lead to even better technology, better decisions about its development and deployment, and a better life for us and our children.