There is much to admire in Swierstra’s chapter on the “ethical effectiveness” of public debates that tried to influence the course of technological developments. He singles out two debates held in the Netherlands during the last decade of the twentieth century: one concerning the medical use of so-called New Reproductive Technologies (NRTs), the other on restricting cloning experiments. In both cases Swierstra presents a clear and convincing classification of the arguments criticizing the new technologies at hand. This classification rests on the notion that the arguments people put forward against the use of NRTs or against ongoing research on cloning always “belong” to a certain vocabulary, a term defined by Swierstra (quoting De Haan) as “a collection of concepts and arguments with which people make their surroundings understandable”. Swierstra uses the term mainly to describe and order different types of argument against the use of a new technological device. His main distinction is between an approach in which the preferences of citizens can be criticized (e.g. for being unnatural or hedonistic) and an approach in which only possible consequences of preferences can be discussed, not these preferences themselves because individuals have the right to choose what they want, provided that they do not harm other people. The first is called “the vocabulary of normative nature”, the second “the vocabulary of self-determination”. This distinction enables Swierstra to go beyond the assessment of specific arguments to the evaluation of vocabularies as a whole. As he explains lucidly in the last section of the chapter, in their efforts to influence medical and biotechnological technologies both vocabularies have specific strengths as well as specific blinds spots. On the basis of this diagnosis Swierstra concludes by formulating four pragmatic suggestions to improve the strengths of both vocabularies.
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