Knowledge as Duty: Lorenzo Magnani’s Website
"...morality is distributed in our technological world in a way that makes some scientific problems particularly relevant to ethics. [...] One solution, I believe, is to re-examine the respect we have developed for particular externalities and then use those things as a vehicle to return value to people."
(L. Magnani, Morality in a technological World)

Jul '09

Reviews of “Morality in a technological world. Knowledge as duty”

Morality in a Technological World is a deftly argued and insightful exploration of the interconnections among morally significant kinds of change—technological, epistemic, and ontological. It is a highly valuable original contribution to agent-centered resource-based analyses of human behavior and to moral theory. [..] The important and innovative theories in Lorenzo Magnani’s Morality in a Technological World have a dynamical character. They are theories that require us to take change seriously. Magnani’s ethical focus is grounded in two traditional assumptions. One is the Platonic idea that wrong-doing is a form of ignorance. The other is the truism that we have a duty to be moral. Jointly, knowledge is also a duty, as is suggested by the subtitle of the book, Knowledge as Duty. Given this dynamical turn, one of Magnani’s principal tasks is to account for what appears to be moral and, correspondingly, epistemic change.” John Woods in: The Journal of Value Inquiry, 42, 2008 [download pdf]

“Magnani offers the radical suggestion that human beings can and should be treated as “things” (a traditionally disparaged proposition), and can thus come to be respected as things that have, in the modern world, been ascribed more value than (some) people. By doing so, he claims that we can “re-appropriate” the moral esteem that we have “lavished” on external things/objects such as endangered species, works of art, information and information systems. An integral element of this approach, he says, is to recognise that our modern techno- and knowledge-based world imposes on us a duty to produce and apply ethical knowledge in keeping with scientific knowledge. In short, (scientific) knowledge imposes on us duties, not only to produce more knowledge, but also to use it to effect positive change in the world, and that means improving the lives of humans who suffer.”Shawn H.E. Harmon in: Genomics, Society and Policy, 4(2) 2008 [download pdf]

“Magnani provides a stimulating exploration of the ethical implications of the medicalization of life, cybernetic globalization and the commodification of our lives through globalization. He advances an original and controversial thesis that will re-orient philosophical discussion of ethical issues toward a new account of moral reasoning that recognizes the cognitive constraints of reasoning, the social and cultural context in which it takes place and the impact of technologies and changing economic circumstances. This book is essential reading for everyone interested in the impacts of social, economic and technological change on ethical and legal theory.” David Gooding, Director, Science Studies Centre, University of Bath, UK

“This book integrates several fields of ethics, philosophy of technology, epistemology, and cognitive science, developing a completely new and challenging perspective from which Magnani makes the case for knowledge-centered morality. From the interesting and counterintuitive premise - respecting people as things in favor of reconfiguring or saving human dignity in our technological world - the discourse moves towards extremely significant but controversial claims supporting the belief that changes of moral value mainly result from human acts of cognition. Magnani clearly contends that we should seriously adopt this thesis of knowledge if we concede that technology has entirely turned both nature and ourselves into the object of human responsibility. Li Ping, Sun Yat-sen University

“[Morality in a Technological World] is a masterpiece. It is completely innovative. It will change argumentation in several branches of cognitive science forever – and moreover in a way that is absolutely essential for the information age. It will change legal argumentation, because such argumentation, as Magnani shows must, in the information age, undergo a fundamental revolution if people are to be protected, and even defined, in such a way that preserves their coherence, integrity, and dignity.” Michael Leyton, Center for Discrete Mathematics & Theoretical Computer Science, Rutgers University”

Magnani clearly articulates the complexity of morality, and the development of a process of treating people as things through which “we can begin to make peace with inevitable technological advances•?.[Magnani] challenges us to think both cognitively and philosophically about moral and ethical dilemmas, in light of new approaches to technological development. In doing so he awakens important discussions around consciousness, humanity, free will and responsibility, and their interconnectedness; in fact, how do we treat people as things, rather than means? He opens up a space in which we can fruitfully discuss the balance between individual, corporate, national and supra-national needs and expectations, in terms of developing individual self-efficacy and agency. In a period of accelerating technological change, where both individually and collectively we are casting longer data shadows within expanding networks, this is an important and timely discussion.”Richard Hall in: Journal of Information, Communication & Ethics in Society 2(6), 2008 [download pdf]

“There are different ways in which this book can be read. I think the most appropriate one would be as a restatement of the Enlightenment hope that rationality can solve the world’s problems. Morality in a technological world therefore requires a duty to knowledge, which would be a necessary foundation for the solution of ethical questions. A resulting call to ethical reflection may be the best that ethicists can hope for. At the same time one needs to acknowledge that the Enlightenment hope of a rational solution to the world’s problems has been disappointed time and again. The cause is not only a lack of rationality and willingness to apply it, but also the inherent limitations of rationality and therefore of ethics itself. A contribution to the ethics of technology that fails to take into account the disenchantment of ethics during the 20th century runs the risk of raising false hopes.”Bernd Carsten Stahl in: Minds & Machines, 2009 [download pdf]

Journal of Information, Communication & Ethics in Society, Richard Hall, Review of Lorenzo Magnani, Morality in a Technological World. Knowledge as Duty, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007; 6(2) 2008, pp. 189-190.

Science and Culture, Shawn Harmon, New Technologies and Moral Duties: Valuing the Person as a Means to an End Review of Lorenzo Magnani, Morality In A Technological World: Knowledge As Duty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 18(4), 2009, pp. 505-510. DOI: 10.1080/0950543090300272

 Review to the Italian Edition: Recensioni Filosofiche, REF, Enzo Ferrara, Review of Lorenzo Magnani, Conoscenza come dovere. Moralità distribuita in un mondo tecnologico, Associated International Academic Publishers, Pavia, 2005; 3, January 2006,

Comments are closed.