Nanotechnologies and Ethical Argumentation: A Philosophical Stalemate?


When philosophers participate in the interdisciplinary ethical, environmental, economic, legal, and social analysis of nanotechnologies, what is their specific contribution? At first glance, the contribution of philosophy appears to be a clarification of the various moral and ethical arguments that are commonly presented in philosophical discussion. But if this is the only contribution of philosophy, then it can offer no more than a stalemate position, in which each moral and ethical argument nullifies all the others. To provide an alternative, we must analyze the reasons behind the prevailing individual and cultural relativism in ethics. The epistemological investigation of this stalemate position will guide us to the core problem of the relation between theory and action (“Part 1: From a conceptual to a speech act analysis of moral arguments”). The stalemate can be overcome from a pragmatic philosophical standpoint, which combines epistemology, philosophy of language—that is, the philosophy of speech acts—and practical reasoning—that is, reasoning about decision-making (“Part 2: Moral argumentation from a pragmatist perspective”). From this philosophical standpoint, it will be possible to show how philosophy can accompany and support the development of nanotechnologies (“Part 3: Philosophy and the evaluation of the development of nanotechnologies”).

Share and Cite:

Legault, G. , Patenaude, J. , Béland, J. and Parent, M. (2013) Nanotechnologies and Ethical Argumentation: A Philosophical Stalemate?. Open Journal of Philosophy, 3, 15-22. doi: 10.4236/ojpp.2013.31004.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Austin, J. (1832). The province of jurisprudence determined. London: John Murray
[2] Austin, J. L. (1962). How to do things with words. New York: Oxford University Press
[3] Béland, J. P., Patenaude, J., Legault, G. A., Boissy, P., & Parent, M. (2011). The social and ethical acceptability of NBICs for purposes of human enhancement: Why does the debate continue to be mired in impasse? NanoEthics, 5, 295-307. doi:10.1007/s11569-011-0133-z
[4] Dewey, J. (1933). How we think. Stilwell, KS: Books
[5] Dewey, J. (1892). Green’s theory of the moral motive. Philosophical Review, 1, 593-612. doi:10.2307/2175919
[6] Dewey, J. (1986). Logic: The theory of inquiry. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
[7] Dupuy, J. P. (2007). Some pitfalls in the philosophical foundation of nanoethics. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 32, 237-261. doi:10.1080/03605310701396992
[8] Fenton, E. (2006). Liberal eugenics and human nature: Against Habermas. Hastings Center Report, 6, 35-42.
[9] Gouvernement du Québec, & Commission de L’éthique de la Science et de la Technologie (2006). Position statement: Ethics and nanotechnology: A basis for action. URL (last checked 18 November 2011).
[10] Fletcher, J. (1966). Situation ethics: The new morality. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press.
[11] Hunyadi, M. (2003). Pourquoi avons nous besoin du raisonnement de précaution? Esprit, 297, 139-162.
[12] Habermas, J. (2002). Vers un eugénisme liberal ? Esprit, 126-137.
[13] Legault, G. A. (1999). Professionnalisme et déliberation éthique. Québec: Presses de L’Université du Québec.
[14] Legault, G. A., Bernier, L., Daniel, C. E., Fontaine, C., & Patenaude, J. (2012). Nanotechnologies et principe de précaution: Forces et limites de l’appel au principe. Québec: P.U.L.
[15] Patenaude, J., Legault, G. A., Parent, M., & Béland, J. P. (2011). Moral arguments in the debate over nanotechnologies: Are we talking past each other? NanoEthics, 5, 285-293. doi:10.1007/s11569-011-0132-0
[16] Putnam, H. (1992). Realism with a human face. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
[17] Quine, W. V. O. (1960). Word and object. Cambridge, MA: Technology Press MIT.
[18] Quine, W. V. O. (1961). From a logical point of view. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
[19] Quine, W. V. O. (1978). The web of belief. New York: Random House.
[20] Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Harvard University Press.
[21] Swierstra, T., & Rip, A. (2007). Nano-ethics as NEST-ethics: Patterns of moral argumentation about new and emerging science and technology. NanoEthics, 1, 3-20. doi:10.1007/s11569-007-0005-8
[22] Toulmin, S. (1981). The tyranny of principles. Hastings Center Report, 11, 31-39. doi:10.2307/3560542
[23] Toulmin, S. (1988). The recovery of practical philosophy. American Scholar, 57, 337-352.

Copyright © 2024 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.