The Ethics of the Machine…

Jeg vil her bringe et uddrag af en artikel af Persson D., Erlandsson, L.K. fra Journal of Occupational Science (2002) . En artikel, som jeg synes er tankevækkende midt i den pågående debat om velfærdssamfundet som industrisamfund. Artikelens titel siger en hel del: Time to reevaluate the machine society: post-industrial ethics from an occupational perspective. For folk som interesserer sig for den slags er det virkelig en artikel, som er værd at købe. Her kommer kun et lille uddrag fra den, som omhandler og introducerer den polske filosof Skolimowski. Denne artikel skal læses i sammenhæng med artikelen af Brian Koehler, som kan findes her:

In short:

»This paper discusses the ethics underlying the occupational repertoire of the post-industrial citizen, giving attention to lifestyle phenomena such as increased tempo and quantity of occupations; manipulation of time, organisms and environments; decreases in sleep, rest and play etc. In trying to understand human behavior in the 21st century, an ethical perspective is delineated and some starting points for a discussion of ethics from an everyday occupational perspective are investigated. Using examples from contemporary Western society, human occupational behavior is described as imprinted by machine-ethical values. It is argued that since behavior arising from such values has been little formulated or observed, it constitutes a substantial risk factor for ill health and stress. An alternative eco-ethical perspective of occupation, inspired by Skolimowski the Polish professor of eco-philosophy, is proposed. The concept of “ecopation” is introduced as an optional choice denoting occupations that are performed with concern for the ecological context at a pace that gives room for reflection and experience of meaning. The questions raised in this paper may be important for occupational scientists to more fully understand the implicit guidelines of contemporary and future occupation and for occupational therapists taking an active part in future healthcare.«

I think this is an important step to take into account when we think about health and health-care from a top-down approach vs. a bottom-up approach and why there should be attention on that meaningful activities as well as value in activity should be a human right in the post-industrial society rather than what it has been in the industrial society where it seems to be the opposite – that the industrial society with its machine-ethics decides over the individual human right to find meaning and value in daily activity. This copernican revolution in the view of humans I find very exciting and it is my hope that it will come to influence the society as a whole. As simple as it may seem on first notice, I think it is a really great argument to bring forth when confronting politicians and the like. Motivating that the society as a whole can benefit vastly from changing the ethics at play. I do recognize that -unfortunately- it isn’t an easy thing to do, but maybe this article can help and I know from Sweden and occupational therapists’ researching in psychiatry that finding meaning and value in activity is a core part of overcoming and becoming. It should be a human right.

Excerpt from the article that concerns Machine Ethics:

Skolimowski draws our attention to a new phenomenon, developing along with utilitarianism – the ethic of the machine, which is a kind of ethics hardly formulated or even observed. Yet its impact on Western societies has been profound. Since the scientific paradigm was developed in the 17th century, knowledge primarily deals with seeking “the truth”, i.e. the mechanical laws that rule matter. Along with the Western tendency to dominate and exploit nature, according to Skolimowski, intellectual understanding no longer seems to be enough; instead we understand in order to be able to control, and control to be able to manipulate. Here, he argues, the ethics of the machine shows its face – if you believe that the world is a machine, then it is rather natural to try to control and rule it. However, this can be done clumsily or skillfully, that is, more or less effectively. Effectiveness thereby becomes a prestigious word in Western thinking. In a capitalist economy, effectiveness also means competition, trying to be more effective than others in order to drive our rivals out of business. Once you are situated in this scenario you have no choice; compete or be out-competed. A sharpening of competitive skills, according to Skolimowski is equal to aggression.  The actions related to machine ethics are thereby, according to Skolimowski, guided by the chain of influences outlined in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The Machine-ethics, Chain of Action.

Control  -> Manipulation -> Effectiveness -> Competition -> Aggression

Skolimowski maintains that this causal chain is not an occasional feature of technological thinking, but characteristic of the mechanical paradigm, entirely focusing on how to relate to objects, and ignoring everything else. This paradigm is impregnated with values and no one should, Skolimowski hopes, make the mistake of thinking that this system is value-neutral. The ethics of the machine is written into our Western souls, but it has hardly ever been presented, and not articulated even by its most devoted followers. Skolimowski thus seems to believe that a ruthless code of ethics has thereby been added to our whole civilization without us being aware of it.

Disse objekter kan så være en mand i Århus som filmes uden at vide det, et kendt menneske, en religion, en ideologi, en adfærd, en sexuel orientering, en politisk overbevisning, find selv på flere. Eksemplerne er mangfoldige, når det gælder objektiviseringen og den agressive fremfærd overfor det identificerede objekt.

Consequences of Applying Machine-ethical or Eco-ethical Perspectives of Occupation, Considering Personal Organism, Human Environment and Planet:

Machine-ethical occupation

Relying on control, manipulation, effectiveness, competition and aggression

Personal organism: (Multi-tasking)

  • Risking stress, burnout and disease
  • accelerated occupational tempo
  • fast, shallow and non-reflective actions motivated by economic and other extrinsic rewards
  • imbalance in everyday occupational repertoire jeopardising play, recreation and physical mobilisation
  • loss of coherent meaning

Human environment: (Competition)

  • success at the expense of others
  • risking a decreased well-being of others
  • monopolising behaviour limits other people’s possibilities
  • large-scale urban concentration is preferred to maximise economic effectiveness and profits

Planet: (Materialism)

  • consumerism, overuse of planet ‘s resources
  • products used are chosen for their effectiveness only, little or no regard with health, environmental hazard, soil exhaustion, pollution or animal suffering and extermination of species
  • low interest in participating in actions for global justice

Men der er også en anden vej, og det er her, den kopernikanske vending kommer ind:

Eco-ethical occupation (Ecopation)

The performance of human occupations is a truly ecological undertaking, because occupation is the interaction between eco-systems such as the organism and its environment. It is the content and the quality of this interaction with which ethics is concerned. Applying reverence as the main ethical guideline of all our everyday occupations, be they maintenance, work, play or recreation, no change in these categories is probably needed. They seem to reflect important human needs. Rather a new perspective emerges that questions our priorities and how we select and perform our daily occupations. It is our belief that post-industrial lifestyle phenomena such as the increased tempo and quantity of occupations, manipulations of time, organisms and environment, and decrease of sleep, rest, and play, represent life paths that have not been seriously reflected. On the contrary, they are an entrapment in a perspective that emphasizes competition and cost-effectiveness that is a product of the Western market, the core power institution of post-industrial society and machine ethics. Instead, if we reflect in relation to our occupational choices and performances, supported by the ancient wisdom contained in the biosphere of our planet, the possibility increases for our time use to be guided by quality instead of quantity…..

The Eco-ethical Chain of Action:

Reverence → responsibility → simplicity → multiplicity → justice

Personal organism: (Single-tasking)

  • preventing stress, burnout and disease
  • slower occupational tempo
  • reflective actions directed by self-reward and the demands of the occupation, rather than a time-schedule
  • balance in everyday occupational repertoire
  • increased play, recreation and physical mobilisation
  • increased coherence and meaning

Human Environment: (Co-operation)

  • success through collaboration with others
  • performing actions that increase well-being of others is experienced as self-rewarding
  • encouraging multiplicity and non-monopolising behaviour against others
  • small-scale natural contexts and simpler living is preferred

Planet: (Ecology)

  • A “to be and to do” rather than “to have” behaviour economises planet’s resources
  • gentleness in interactions towards the “more-than-human” environment
  • products used are chosen from eco-ethical considerations, i.e. not causing animal suffering, not hazarding environment, possibility for recycling etc.
  • participation in actions for global justice

P.S.: Hvis man ikke kan se videoen, så klik her:

Key References:

Persson, D., Erlandsson, L.K. (2002). Time to reevaluate the machine society: post-industrial ethics from an occupational perspective . Journal of Occupational Science, 9 (2): p. 93-99.



  1. Long-Term Follow-Up Studies: An Update on schizophrenia. « Snowtiger siger:

    […] Politik og Samfund « The Ethics of the Machine… […]

  2. […] at man læser artikelen i sammenhæng med Dennis Persson og Lena Karin Erlandssons artikel: Time to reevaluate the machine society: post-industrial ethics from an occupational perspective . For derigennem måske at kunne gøre sig nogle overvejelser omkring årsagen til, at […]

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