Articles  |    |  April 25, 2011

Exploring Responsibility Rationales in Research and Development (R&D)

Article by Neelke Doorn.
Published in Science, Technology, & Human Values.


The present article explores the rationales of scientists and engineers for distributing moral responsibilities related technology development. On the basis of a qualitative case study, it was investigated how the actors within a research network distribute responsibilities for these issues. Rawls’ Wide Reflective Equilibrium model was used as a descriptive framework. This study indicates that there is a correlation between the actors’ ethics position and their responsibility rationale. When discussing how to address ethical issues or how to distribute the responsibility for addressing them, actors with similar normative background theories referred to the same type of normative arguments. It was found that these deliberative processes could best be interpreted in terms of an interplay between different layers of morality. The case suggests that people seek coherence between these layers rather than work through them one-directionally. By distinguishing between rationales for distributing responsibilities and the actual distributions, possible sources of misunderstanding can be identified. The benefit from acknowledging these different rationales is that it enables actors to recognize the legitimacy of other people’s opinions, ultimately contributing to a responsibility distribution that is both complete and accepted by all as justified.