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Ethics: Science and the Good Life

In contemporary scientific settings the production of knowledge and the advance of technological capacity are often taken to be self-evidently good. Ethics remains only a matter of establishing moral “bright lines,” following best practices, and minimizing harms. Yet throughout the history of Western civilization most traditions of thought have understood ethics as a question of how to live the good life: how do we flourish individually and collectively?

The concept of flourishing is a translation of a classical philosophical term eudaimonia, a term which might be translated equally well as: thriving, happiness, fulfillment, or abundance. It not only includes success in one’s endeavors, but extends to the kind of human being one is able to become personally, communally, and vocationally.

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In this light, the projects in this area pose and repose the question of what constitutes flourishing today and whether or not science is contributing to that form of life. They ask, in short: what does science—from biology to anthropology and engineering—have to do with the good life today?

Key Research Questions

  • How are diverse elements in the world (objects, events, arguments, practices, stories, institutions, etc.) brought together and configured in order to explain why certain scientific directions are uniquely worthwhile and urgent?
  • In what ways are the sciences actually contributing to amelioration of health and the increase in prosperity? How do these justifications for research sometimes block the pursuit of other goods?
  • What virtues and vices accompany the drive of scientists to accumulate and consolidate the funding and status required for a competitive mode of operation?
  • What does it mean to take up science as a vocation in the 21st century?

We think that our work in this project area can only be effectively realized if ethics is understood to be intrinsic to scientific practice, and not only a questions of its outcomes and applications. Our approach to ethical inquiry presumes that ethics plays a formative role in the very development of both biological and human science and technology and that the most urgent problems cannot be known in advance of on-going scientific work. We therefore conduct our inquiry in direct interaction with scientists, policy makers, and other stake holders.