Responsibility in the technological age: A discussion of the notion of purposiveness in the philosophy of biology and ethics of Hans Jonas
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This master’s thesis treats the central notion of purposiveness in the philosophy of biology and the responsibility ethics of the German philosopher Hans Jonas. Taking on a phenomenological approach, Jonas perceives purposiveness, intentionality or subjectivity throughout organic nature and relates it to the existence of value. As purposiveness intensifies in biological evolution, Jonas conceives human beings as the apogee of purposiveness. This grants them freedom, high ethical standing and susceptibility to the feeling of responsibility. Humans as moral beings are the only ones capable of acting responsible; they can recognize ends that lie beyond their own vital ones as inherently good, vulnerable and in need of protection. This responsibility has come to stand in a different light in present times. Technology has expanded the scope of human actions enormously in time as well as space; we are able to influence and control our surroundings in an unprecedented and unmatched way. Jonas believes ethically unrestricted technological capabilities threaten the future existence of mankind and of the planet. He therefore tailors his ethics of responsibility to technological action in order to lift the moral nihilism from which modern societies suffer. In the current ethical crisis Jonas commands a negative approach; this is expressed in his emphasis on the heuristics of fear and the precautionary principle as guiding human action. We should not close off any possibilities or compromise the conditions for an indefinite continuation of humanity on earth.