Ethics and Ontology: A Brief Discourse on Method

AuthorDavid Koepsell
ProfessionAuthor, philosopher, attorney, and educator whose recent research focuses on the nexus of science, technology, ethics, and public policy
Who Owns You?: Science, Innovation, and the Gene Patent Wars, Second Edition. David Koepsell.
© 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Ethics and Ontology
A Brief Discourse on Method
Approaches to the Problem
Gene patenting began without public debate. It was enabled by strained
interpretations of legal precedent and with very little consideration of its
ultimate ethical implications. The post hoc analysis has come in fits and
starts and from a variety of ethical perspectives. As I have discussed earlier,
other analyses focus on such things as utility, various pragmatic concerns,
rights‐based approaches, and theological ethics. The problem with this
grab‐bag of approaches is the problem of ethics as a field. How do we reach
a consensus about ethical dilemmas posed by radical new technologies
when philosophers have never succeeded in reaching consensus about eth-
ical theories in general? Can we expect policy makers, much less the public,
to make ethical decisions about complicated technological and scientific
matters without a clear, universally acceptable ethical framework? It seems
doubtful, and it should not be at all surprising that we find ourselves now in
the midst of an untenable situation where fundamental questions remain
If we are to make meaningful statements about what one ought to do and
not do and to judge certain actions, states of affairs, or even people as
immoral or unethical, then we must try to find a standard by which such
judgments can be made. The sciences of justice, ethics, and morals remain
in their dark ages, with their practitioners all ascribing to differing values
and modes of inquiry, besieged in their various camps of deontological, or
consequentialist, or emotive, or theistic dogmas. What I propose is a meth-
odological accord that serves to begin building a bridge among ethical

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